Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

We received word today that we will be leaving tomorrow; June 22, 2007 around 8 AM local time (baggage palletized by 5:30 AM). We will have to stop in Goose Bay, New Foundland, Canada for a quick refueling stop because of the large amount of cargo and high number of passengers on the flight. Rumor has it, they will give us a free ice cream during our refueling stop. I will be equally impressed if they allow us a bathroom break. There is nothing like going to the bathroom on a rocking C-130 behind a thin, movable curtain. Until mid-afternoon today, it was doubtful we are going at all. Apparently, our C-130 got caught in the snow and ice on a runway at one of the camps on the icesheet. It is free now, therefore, so are we! Oops, it wasn't free. Another plane came for us. We didn't stop in Goose Bay because one of the pallets was removed. The decrease in weight allowed us to travel faster, and to not have to stop for refueling. It was a great flight home.

I took the bicycle ride to the glacier-edge and farther today. To the glacier-edge is about 25 km (17 miles) one way. I went considerably farther. I venture it was 31-32 km (22-23 miles; one way). On the way to the glacier, I had another unusual experience. I will explain shortly. First, let me describe the "road". It is unpaved, very rocky, very sandy, and on the way to the glacier nearly entirely uphill. The wind was blowing in my face the whole way out. I crest the last hill near the glacier. I see a tourist bus at the river crossing. Nearly all the tourists are in the process of gingerly crossing the river in order to touch the glacier face. This is really not a bright idea. Huge, heavy chunks of ice, and chunks of ice and sediment fall off all the time. Actually, when the chunks break away, it sounds like a gunshot. It is too late to try to get away at that point. One can only hope that the material will not fall on you or anyone else. No one can predict where the ice will break at any one time. Regardless, one of the tourist spots me on my bicycle. I am in shorts, and a T-shirt. I have with me sunscreen, a hat, a windbreaker-like jacket, chapstick, sunscreen, bandaids, a snickers bar, water, and my camera. He gestures and yells to his fellow tourists. Everyone stops crossing the river, stops touching the glacier and they all turn with their camera to take a picture of me. I thought of the many things I could do at the time to liven up the picture. I went with the innocent choice... a wave! They all smiled and waved back. I think I made their day. I am so pleased. Now, everyone will have a story to tell when doing their slide show. If slides had captions, I can only imagine what they might be. I think I was the only bicyclist on the road to the glacier today. All kidding aside, it was a very tough ride. For those safety conscious, I told a couple of people where I was going, and what time I anticipated returning. I set a limit of 3.5 hours out, and I figured the same for the return trip. Actually, despite being tired, I was faster on the return because most of the trip was down hill. Since darkness is not an issue, I had no worries. I just had to tough it out. I beat my deadline home, and had a lot to eat and drink. Shower and laundry before packing tonight!

While the ride was difficult. It was well worth it. The scenery was beautiful. It was the last item on my list to do in Greenland before going home. In terms of visuals, I wanted to stand on the iceshelf and view the unfettered white vastness, see ice cores, and see the edge of the glacier. The edge of the glacier was dirty as I expected. Glaciers pick up a great deal of sediment from their grinding across bedrock. However, the glacier does have beautiful white and sections. When seeing a glacier of this size, and the amount of water that pours from underneath, it is an impressive sight. Actually, meltwater speeds the glaciers downslope. So, meltwater might make a glacier appear to be "growing". However, it really might be thinning and slipping.

An interesting fact I learned from another educational talk was the Greenlander flag is not flown higher (as is the custom with the U.S. Stars and Stripes) than the Danish flag, but it is flown more north than the Danish flag. This is such a simple, elegant, and non-chauvinistic solution.

Please, forgive any spelling errors. Spell check is inaccessible to me right now because I can't read Danish... It is so difficult to edit oneself. Largely, I think this is true because most of us secretly believe we don't require editing...

Thank you for reading this blog. Thank you for your emails and comments. However, most of all, thank you for your expressed, and understood support. I could not do this without you. To my wife Barbara, and daughter Carsen, I want you to know that most of all I appreciate and love you. I want to thank Dr. Greg Huey of GA Tech for allowing me to participate. You were kind and supportive, so I had the trip of a lifetime. I could not have asked for more.
Oh yes, I have decided to continue the blog. The upcoming voyages might not be as dramatic, but they will noted, and shared. Sometimes, trips of the heart, mind, and spirit take one one farther than those of the body. Be well all. Please, share your voyages with me. mike

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

I awoke too late this morning. Rest is probably what I needed. The two bicycles are being used. Most of my fellow voyagers are shopping. C'est la vie. I had a hardy breakfast, showered (the world is thankful), and washed my clothes (more thanks). A couple of us are going to climb Black Ridge, and maybe beyond today. I am curious about the muskoxen numbers in the meadows. I would like to walk a bit farther. There is a distant hill I saw earlier in the trip on a previous walk up Black Ridge. I am going to aim for it. My hunch is that it will offer a better view of the ice sheet. Tomorrow, I will get up earlier to use one of the available bicycles and/or rent a bicycle to take up to the glacier. I understand the "seaside" community is not exactly as I heard about, and the road doesn't take you appreciably closer to the edge of the fjord. So, glacier bound I am! More to write later.

After lunch, I went to check on a bicycle rental. While standing outside the shop awaiting the return of the store clerk, I was chit-chatting with another visitor. He turned out to be a reporter for "Voice of America" (VOA). His plane to Summit Camp had been canceled because of another medivac situation. This one was an altitude-sickness-related problem. Apparently, it was a difficult situation. The word out is that the patient is back in Kanger and doing much better. I am so thankful that I was not altitude-affected, and that Tyler (Summit's medic) is so capable, and has adequate equipment, and materials, as well as the necessary support to deal with a potentially life-threatening situation. Regardless, the reporter asked if he could interview me. I said yes. On video, we discussed climate change, how I got to go on this trip, what I was doing at Summit, and what I wanted students to gain from my experience. I had the opportunity to mention Lakeside High School. He said the interview would be aired next week. Who knows, maybe I'll become the next big media star? Gosh, then I will have to worry about my haircut, my clothing, etc. Perhaps, I should retain an agent, a publicist, an accountant, and a lawyer. In which order should I hire them? I will stop now. The reporter's name is Kane R. Farabaugh and VOA's website is

After the interview, we walked up Black Ridge, and much further. I wanted to see more of the distant (25 kilometers; about 17 miles) ice field. While up on the peak, a reporter from an Albany, NY newspaper drove up, and (you guessed it!) we were chit-chatting. I was interviewed again prompting me to yet again to worry about haircut, clothing, etc. I believe the Newspaper is the Albany Times-Union. It was basically the same set of question. Again, I mentioned Lakeside High School. The walk was somewhat strenuous, but well worth it. It was cool, moderately overcast, and breezy. There was a good view of the icefield, and the ice-edge-defining glaciers. In the opposite direction, I could see the coastal mountains heavily-laden with glaciers. All around me, I could see and touch massive boulders indicating that during the last ice age, glaciers towered over even the hills or small mountains we were walking on. I took many pictures (Unfortunately, I will have to upload them from home.) of the vast-openness of the country, the ice field/glaciers, and closeups of the biota. Insects are starting to appear including black flies, mosquitoes, and moths or butterflies, but the wind was strong and I didn't get bitten. Unfortunately, I didn't see any caribou or muskoxen. I hope to see both tomorrow. By the way, I have not seen a single tree in Greenland. Climate dictates that the vegetation is low-growing, and slow-growing. The tundra is dominated by lichens, mosses, grasses, and stunted-bushes. The rapidly greening vegetation signals the bountiful time of year. Small, beautiful flowers are appearing. After solstice tomorrow, the daylight hours will begin to diminish, and after a brief month of relative warmth, nature's creatures will begin to prepare for winter. However, until then, Greenland is awash with life, and its rivers scour and carve rock with an ever-increasing, sediment-laden volume of water.

All meals were good today. The workers at the cafeteria know my name, and I know their names too. I feel as if I am living in a "Cheers" episode. It is really quite nice. They are great people. I really can't properly express how rewarding it is to have met so many wonderful, kind, and talented people. I am thankful and lucky. With that being said, signs, if present, are in Danish or Greenlander. So, I am not always sure what is offered at mealtime. I have to be careful because I don't eat red meat. Today, I mistook sauce for a soup. The giveaway for my ignorance was the size of my bowl, and the completeness with which I filled it. I took good bit of good-natured teasing about it from the staff. Actually, in the end, I dipped my boiled potatoes, and bread in the remains of the sauce. It was creamy, and had some chopped green vegetable or spice in it. It was tasty! I think it should be a soup.

I am tired now. Please forgive any incorrect spellings. Except for my actual typing, everything else is in Danish, and I can't figure out how to change things to English. So, even things like spell-check is a bit difficult.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Before leaving for Kanger, we loaded 53 boxes of icecore samples. Each sample is about one meter long. There are many cores per box. Everyone pitched in to help. I really enjoyed the can-do and helpfulness of everyone at Summit. After loading, I wandered over to a seemingly non-descript site. It is all that remains of the original ice-core drilling site that introduced the world to the relationship between global warming and levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. I am nonchalantly leaning on the drilling pole.

We arrived safely, and with minimum discomfort from Summit early afternoon. The flight was fairly uneventful, but the JATOs did give good acceleration. It was fun!

A group of five of us are planning to visit some of the sights equidistant from Kanger. In one direction is the "port", and the other way is the face of the glacier. I would like to see both. We have 2.5 days, so time is not short. There is not much to report today except a few subtle changes in the local area. The hills have much less snow on them, and they are definitely greener because of some local rain. The river running through town is faster, and higher. By weathering (in this case the grinding of ice on the bedrock), the glacier has created much new sediment. As the glacier melts, erosion caused by the melt water washes the sediment down the valleys scouring the surface of the rocks. This scouring leaves beautifully shaped bedrock exposed. The river water is opaque, and light-chocolate colored because of the suspended materials.

I am tired, and I am happy to be warm and out of the wind. Dinner was minimal for me because I don't eat red meat. Breakfast and lunch will be better. I live in the world of "it will work out". It has allowed me to make it through alot. Be well.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Summit Camp, Greenland

Last night, we packed until 10:45 PM local time, and we were back at it at 8:30 AM this morning. It takes a lot of material, and a lot of of work to run a scientific expedition (the word used in camp is campaign) of this type and magnitude. Let me give you an idea of the quantity of material. Pallets are stacked with our boxes, etc. eight feet tall, then we strap them down. Imagine ants crawling under, on, and over a scrap of food, and you would have a good idea of what we looked like. Very little of our person is visible. Communication is largely verbal between individuals; the subtle facial cues we take from one another are hidden by scarves, and sunglasses. The temperature was at zero Fahrenheit, and there was wind. It was chilly. Each pallet must be weighed. We have two plus pallets. The first pallet weighed 4,800 pounds. That is nearly 2.5 tons. The second pallet is as large. The third is a collection of other miscellaneous material, and it will contain our luggage. Perhaps, the numbers I just gave you will give you an idea of the size and strength of the C-130. The nickname for C-130s is Hercules! I have to agree. Actually, the C-17 I flew to Antarctica (from Christchurch) can hold much more. Inside it is huge. However, it is a jet, and as far as I can tell, C-17s have not been fitted with skis for landing on snow and ice.

I will not be sleeping in a tent tonight. My sleeping bags were used for packaging material in the wooden crates containing the large equipment. Instead, I will be sleeping in the Recreation Port (Recport) on a cot. I think there is even heat in the structure! One of the ice-corers is making a Thai dinner for everyone. He says it will be hot. He didn't even bother with the word spicy. Maybe I will still be hot from dinner and not be affected by the cold cabin trip back to Kanger. Before dinner, another round of Trivial Pursuit ensued. After dinner Soccer (football in most of the world) will occur. It will be the young v. old. The demarkation line is thirty-five years old. Much bravado on each side. Yesterday, the Summit Golf Tournament occured. With flags embedded in the snow all over for safety, identifying "pee" poles, freezers, science trenches, skiway, etc., the course is already laid out. Golf is a winner here!

We must have our personal belongings ready to be palletized by 9 AM in the morning. We will sit around until the C-130 lands, pick up a brown bag lunch (a very nice touch given by Summit's great staff), then board the plane. If the plane lands, I understand we will leave. A plane will fly into Summit if the pilot can identify a horizon (not as easy as one thinks given the conditions), and cross winds are not too great (no, I don't want to roll in a plane). Take off will be interesting. C-130s are propeller (four) driven planes. However, to assist in take-offs four JATOs (Jet-Assisted-Take-Off devices) are attached to each side of the fuselage near the rear of the plane. As the plane gathers speed for takeoff, the JATOs are activated. The fire like rockets. I understand there is no shutoff once ignited. Flame and gas are spewed out the back, and the plane is accelerated forward. It is a perfect example of Newton's Third Law of Motion summarized in the saying "For every action, there is an equal, but opposite reaction". I will tell you how it goes in tomorrow's blog. It will be my first JATO takeoff. From the ground, it is spectacular (although, it did greatly affect the measurements of the scientists.); everyone at camp stops what they are doing to watch them.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summit Camp, Greenland

Today is Sunday. We have been packing since early this morning, and will continue late into the evening. Strange, even with no night, we still breakdown the day into morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Actually, some preliminary packing occurred last night. Equipment has to be broken down, packaged, packed, and palletized. Pallets have specific restrictions as to size. I know the C-130s are strong airplanes. They are used to move tanks, but all the weight of these pallets seems overwhelming. Apparently, it is not.

It is not a fun day. The work can be grueling. In general, I don't think I really like Sunday's at Summit. I miss the gathering together of people at meal time. The food is good here, but it is the communal, talking time I miss. Sunday is the day that the staff is off. Heaven knows, they have earned it.

Hopefully, by lunch tomorrow, we will be done packing. Then, time for a last walk or chat. No pictures today. Things are packed up. Strangely, I am not quite ready to leave here, but I am ready to go home. It is hard to reconcile these two feelings. It is beautiful here, but not a place I would want to spend my lifetime. I need an environment more with more variety. However, I doubt I will ever be by this way again. So, I want to soak up as much as possible. No melancholy, just tired.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Summit Camp, Greenland

It was colder last night. When I went to bed about 10:30 pm local time, the temperature was 17 degrees Celsius and falling. It continued to fall, and early this morning, it felt really cold. However, by 7 AM, it was again comfortable in the tent. I was house mouse again, so I got an early start on the work. I washed dishes and stocked things around breakfast. Then, I took a walk on the skiway (runway). It was about a 1.5 hr. round trip. It is being groomed for our departure. We got the word that our C-130 cabin will be a cold cabin (no heat). Some of the ice cores are returning to Kanger. They can not be allowed to warm and melt. We will just have to bundle up. Kanger is only a two hour trip. The six hour trip to Schenectady (Scotia), NY should have heat.

Just in case you wondering... Shower and laundry day! yippee!

I want to share with you a most beautiful sky phenomenon I witnessed on my walk today. The sky was awash with small needle-like crystals that sparkled and shimmered like a host of rainbows. The sky was resplendent. You can't feel the crystals, but one surely can see them. The term for what I observed was diamond dust.

Diamond dust usually occurs in clear or nearly-clear skies, and it is sometimes called clear-sky precipitation. It is usually seen in the Arctic or Antarctic, but it can occur anywhere the temperature is well below freezing. Diamond dust occurs when a tiny dust particle or similar acts as a seed about which ice collects. The ice particles refract light, and act as little prisms.

I tried to take a picture of the diamond dust, but the image does not capture its beauty. I suppose it is very difficult to capture things ephemeral. My Internet search yielded a macro-view of diamond dust, but this view treats it as a science topic. What made it incredibly special was to be surrounded by it, and be a part of it. Sorry, no pictures today. Imagine something beautiful.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Summit Camp, Greenland

I had another good night sleeping. Two of the scientists had a tougher time. They had some breathing difficulty. Sleeping in the tent can be claustrophobic, and the tent has warnings about keeping some vents open to avoid suffocation. The tent does a fine job of preventing heat loss due to the wind. However, the breathing difficulty was most likely not caused by the tent, but because of the altitude. Apparently, altitude distress, or sickness can hit hard and fast, or more insidiously, and it can be sporadic in appearance. Age, gender, or apparent level of physical fitness seem not to be factors. The scientists were a bit chastened, but fine at breakfast. Tyler is our very capable medic. He has a cramped, but well provisioned infirmary. Tyler is able to handle any altitude sickness problem, and a whole variety of other ailments that most would rather not read about.

Speaking about the tent. I have learned some tricks to staying warm at night. Don't worry, none of this is "X", "R", or "PG-13" - rated. Before entering the tent, knock off as much snow as possible, and quickly rezip both layers of the tent. Stash your boots in the corner, and slip into the bags with everything you have on. Warm up the bags for five or ten minutes. Unzip, and remove your parka, and use it as a third blanket. I like using it at the feet end of the sleeping bag. Exchange your day socks for dry sleeping socks. Then, depending on the ferocity of the night remove your vest, socks, gloves and hat, and other outer garments as needed. Some nights are colder than others. To date, I have not used toe warmers or a heated bottle. Early morning, 4 to 5 AM, is usually the coldest. The solution is to curl up into a ball, cover your head, and tuck in your hands. It will pass. By 7 AM, the sun warms the tent, and it is quite pleasant. Polar explorer Captain Scott and his men, actually brought pajamas to wear! I didn't, and I am just going to let it go at that.

Sitting at meals people talk. Despite the cold and constant worries about family, people find value in being here, and beauty in the surroundings. Here are some of the things I have heard said in the vein of "being worth the price of admission":

1. Working on something new and important.
2. Snowflakes, Fogbows, Sundogs, and Sun Pillars.
3. The physical challenge.
4. The food.
5. Working with great people.
6. Time to realize how much you love the people back home.
7. Snacking for free, and not gaining weight.
8. Learning new skills, and improving old ones.
9. Creating or expanding personal and professional networks.
10. Winter sports.
11. Less laundry.
12. Making and saving money for life off the ice.
13. Beverages.
14. Snowmen, and snow soccer.
15. Talking unhurriedly, and listening intently.
16. Learning or relearning determination, and flexibility.
17. Dreaming big.
18. Knowing you can and must trust people, and they you.
19. Sparkling snow.
20. Equality of opportunity.
21. Pitching in, and accepting help.
22. Taking ownership and pride in one's work.
23. Fellowship, and friendship.
24. A shower, and then clean clothes.
25. Taking a chance, and living your life.
26. Flush toilets, and interesting reading material.
27. Packed snow to walk on.
28. Hats, gloves, hot water bottles, and toe warmers.
29. At nighttime, not having use the to use the facilities.
30. The Internet and email.
31. Quiet time, and resting.
32. Laughter.
33. Informative lectures, chess, and other board games.
34. Choosing the music, and appreciating other's choices.
35. Finding what you lost.

While, none of the list is a proper quote, they do express the sentiments I have heard. Some are profound, if not elegantly stated, while others are silly and whimsical. They are in no particular order. Today, I encourage you to dwell on the good things in your life, and to build on them. I am going to do my best to follow my own advice. Let me know of the good things in your life!