Greenlandic heat wave, record ice sheet melt and rapid thermokarst formation – what’s the fate of the eroded soil materials?

Greenland has made headlines around the world lately, with temperatures climbing >19 ˚C at the Zackenberg Research Station a week ago and the 1-day melt record of the Greenland ice sheet broken on 1 August 2019. The freshly released report card for 2018 by the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring program nicely places recent developments in context: that year had been characterized by a relatively cold and wet summer, particularly around Zackenberg. Soil temperatures had been rising already for the last three decades, though, and after the unusually thick and long-lasting snow cover had finally disappeared, researchers around Torben Christensen discovered a rapidly evolving thermokarst erosion feature in close vicinity of the research station. According to their report, “during the years of monitoring at Zackenberg there has never been such a fast and ‘galloping’ type” before, estimating the soil volume that was eroded during July-August 2018 to be about 290 m3. During our upcoming expedition, we plan to visit this and other thermokarst features to learn more about the composition of the material that is released. We will follow the organic and mineral particles downstream investigating the evolution of their interactions from soils to rivers and the ocean. Our first samples are actually already being collected before our arrival – thanks to efforts by Mikael Sejr, Egon Frandsen, Johnna Holding and others from the Marinebasis program based at Daneborg (25 km southeast of the Zackenberg Research Station) who are currently sampling sediments in the Young Sound, the ultimate recipient of mobilized permafrost soils. In the meantime, we are still frantically packing and solving last minute hick-ups…three days to go until our planned arrival @ZERO74N!

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