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Unexpected Explorers

As we descended to the lake, I was surprised to see that the party waiting on the beach to be picked up was a different generation from the young scientists one tends to encounter in these remote and often trying areas. The two women and three men waving us in were, I discovered, the “British North East Greenland project”. Now retired, but lovers of the Arctic, they have all the necessary gear, bought special inflatable boats and come to this remote region every year for around 3 weeks, set up camp and go hiking, boating and collecting samples for various scientists. They had also made some archaeological finds. One of the ladies told me she had two artificial knees. She walked with a stick, but still managed to get up the ladder and into the twin otter, with a little help from her friends. More power to you folks, and if you read this when you get home, please put some info about your project onto the blog, and an email address where I can contact you, if you like. I think your project is great.
The group had their stuff all packed up, and I now found out why the front of the plane had been cleared.

The captain and co-pilot do everything on these routes, and we all helped get the equipment loaded onto the plane.

Once it was all inside, we just had to trust we wouldn’t need to reach that emergency exit.

Our next destination was Mesterswig, a Danish military aerodrome used, like Daneborg, as a drop-off and pick-up point.

My fellow travellers told me the government had been threatening to close it down for the last 20 years. With the latest resurge in military interest in the Arctic, it probably has a good chance of staying open.

Mesterswig control

The group has storage space in Mesterswig where they store their gear until next year. They’re well known and welcome. While they stowed it all, our copilot had a well-earned break on the runway. I wonder what insect repellent he uses. You can’t tell to look at him we were all under mega-attack from thousands of giant mosquitoes. (I’d have liked our Zackenberg insect experts Gergely and Tomas to have a look, but the only samples I have are somewhat squashed..)

From here, we headed down to Constable Point, for refuelling before we tackled the longer stretch to Iceland. (Flying from East to West Greenland goes, I’m afraid, via Iceland, there are few direct travel options). There were plenty more beautiful ice and snow views on route.This is a very spectacular part of the world.

We found the fire brigade waiting. We had been warned our captain would be radio reporting some engine trouble – to provide a fire alarm test for the ground team.

Well mastered.
The next entry will come from western Greenland.


July 27, 2009 | 9:43 am



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Drop-off at Daneborg Base

This is the runway at Daneborg, on the coast, around 25 km from Zackenberg.
There’s still a little ice on the sea here.(But all the scientific research at Z. confirms the trend of a decrease in the perennial sea-ice).

There is an old trapper station here, used nowadays with the other buildings here by the Danish military SIRIUS patrol, the one that’s famous for its dogsled activities. That goes out to patrol the coast and surrounding areas in the winter.

Denmark is keen to establish its sovereignty here on the remote north-east coast. The national park is the biggest park in the world, and there’s not much in the way of human activity up here. The territory of East Greenland was disputed by Norway early in the 20th century. These days, there’s a lot of talk of increasing military activities up here because of the growing interest in the natural resources of the Arctic, especially the supplies of oil thought to lie hidden under the ice at the moment. The parties in the Danish parliament recently agreed to create a special Arctic Task Force, combining those elements of their military units (mainly for Greenland and the Faroe Islands) specialized in Arctic activities. A Greenland home rule adviser told me he does not see this as increased militarization of the Arctic, as some fear, but just as an organisational shift, which will not include more resources. It certainly means a change in focus.There are likely to be more aircraft coming in here, at any rate.
Denmark has put forward claims to extend the continental shelf by territory around Greenland. Other Arctic states have put in their own claims. The UN commission on the Law of the Sea has to decide who owns what territory and could therefore lay claim to any oil, gas or mineral reserves found there.
Fuel for the base and Zackenberg is shipped into Daneborg, then flown on in smaller quantities.

Time to take off, and for the next stretch I have the famous POF twin otter all to myself.

This is going to be spectacular, as we are moving in from the coast a little over the icy mountains. Taking pictures in this historic plane can be challenging:

But I have a couple of windows to choose from – as long as I can reach them without loosening the belt.

I love the changing landscape and all the features you can see in the snow, flying this low:

I have many more of these ice-blog views, but will close for now with this one.

Nicely framed, huh? Courtesy of Twin Otter Pof.
Next stop, Krume Langso, the “long, curved lake”.


July 24, 2009 | 3:11 pm



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Snow-white Hares in the Midnight Sunlight

Last night at the roof count, Jannik saw three Arctic hares. When I was going back to the dormitory hut in the early hours of this morning (it’s hard to go to bed early when there is all this beautiful sunshine) after discussing insects, global warming and ecological footprints with Gergely Várkonyi, from Hungary originally, now Finland, we saw some white patches on the river bed, then heading up onto the grass.

In all we saw nine Arctic hares, looking somewhat surreal, snowy white patches on the green grass. So much for nature’s camouflage. And I was able to make an entry in the station’s wildlife-spotting log.


July 22, 2009 | 9:10 am



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Of Creatures Great…. but mainly Small

While I was waiting out by the methane measuring point for Jannik from Zackenberg’s “BioBasis” programme, I spotted the family of barnacle geese I photographed on a pond the other day, venturing out onto the river

It seems the name Barnacle Goose goes back to the Middle Ages. The migrating geese seemed to appear in northern Europe from nowhere every autumn, so people thought they came out of barnacles drifting ashore on the current. The Greenland birds breed here, then migrate through Iceland to northern Ireland and the Inner Hebrides. (The ones we see in Germany come from Russia and Gotland).

But today we were looking for Dunlin chicks. Jannik is the “resident” ornithologist here, spending the whole season monitoring birds (not only birds, but he is the bird expert), which involves a bird census, finding breeding pairs, nests, checking the eggs, checking the chicks, ringing birds and generally keeping track of bird developments. He’s having help with the sanderling population (small waders, more later when time allows) as there’s a visiting team of 3 from the Netherlands, following those. These hardy lads walk up to 30 km at a time to check up on nests and ring the birds. Jannick and I went off to check up on two dunlin nests which had been marked and where it should be time for the chicks to hatch. Dunlins are small waders who breed in Arctic regions

Their nests are small and not easy to find. Jannick has them marked with white sticks, and the rule is, walk 20 paces from marker towards the station radio mast :

We found the nest and shell, showing the chicks had hatched earlier than expected. Unfortunately, no sign of the chicks, so it’s possible they have been predated. The Arctic foxes and the skuas will have been on the hung for food, especially with the lack of lemmings this season.

Jannik and Lars, the Bio-Basis team, also count the barnacle geese moulting in a no-go area down by the water, (70 at present), the musk-oxen and Arctic hares, through a powerful telescope they take up to the roof of one of the huts.

I have just been up and seen 3 white Arctic hares on Zackenberg mountain. Looking the other way, we could see ice drifting in from sea.


July 21, 2009 | 11:33 am



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Cold Wind off the Pole

I never thought I would come to love the howling icy Arctic wind. But it has one big advantage: It blows the mosquitoes away. It’s Sunday morning, and I came outside to drink my tea, since somebody had left windows open and there seemed to be more “grozzies” inside than out. Now a stormy wind has blown up, the strongest I’ve felt here so far, whipping up the dirt all around, lashing the station flags and sending the little weather station spinning crazy. I’m on the sheltered side of the hut, but it would be tough going along the mountain ridges at the moment.

I’m hoping it will reduce to moderate but keep blowing in time for today’s expeditions. Things are starting to blow around, I will have to retreat indoors. So far only the girls are up, except Lone. Sunday is the one day the cook gets off and can have a lie-in. Everybody else can do the same, except Julie. She has to go down to the river and check up on water levels, sediment content etc. at 8 every morning. Sarah is also on the go. She’s made her sandwiches to take down to her plots, where she is hoping to spend most of the day. But in this wind, she won’t be able to work there. Once since she’s been here, they had a storm like this all night, she tells me.

Sarah is measuring the respiration and photosynthesis of controlled plots between the station and the Sound. She waters some every week, to simulate the effect of the increased precipitation that is forecast to become normal in this region as the climate changes. The results will go into her Master’s thesis for Uni in Copenhagen. She has measurements taken here over the last 10 years to compare with. I visited Sarah to see how she works, down at the plots last night.

I’m going to go to the methane monitors with Julie again for some special measurements today. But first she has to bring in the co2 monitor, which is still playing up. She’s going to take it apart in the lab. You are very far away from anywhere here if anything goes wrong.

Meanwhile Philip, our logistics expert, has succeeded in repairing the back-up generator, which had somehow blown. This is a separate machine which can give the station emergency power in the event of a fire or other incident in the main generator hut. We certainly don’t need power for light at this time, most of the time we’re even ok for heat. But imagine what would happen to the electronic equipment and all those frozen biological samples of all sorts (!) – if we had no electricity for the fridges and freezers (not to mention the food supplies)…


July 20, 2009 | 11:13 am



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