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Notes from the Field

Day2: Exploring Thule and Surrounding Areas

March 15th, 2011 by LCDR John Woods

March 11, 2011

**We woke up to some horrible news about the Earthquake and subsequent Tsunami that struck Japan, and then threatened the Hawaiian Island and West Coast of the U.S. I taught the Intro to Oceanography course at USNA, and 2 of the core objectives are introducing the student’s to earthquakes and tsunamis. I hope that all those I taught were able to follow what was going on with a better understanding of the physical scientific processes that were taking place. The video and destruction were frightening to watch and my prayers are with the Japanese people to give them strength during these difficult times.**

LCDR John Woods participates in the Arctic 2011 campaign of NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission in Thule, Greenland. Image is courtesy of John Woods.

Since the P-3 will not arrive until Monday we took the opportunity to take in some of the sights around base. Thule Air Base is the U.S. Armed Forces’ northernmost installation, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. We were issued Arctic Gear the day before, which consists of a VERY warm down parka, and other essential clothing that you need to survive the minus 5 degree Fahrenheit air temperatures and even colder wind chills. Unfortunately the base was in a weather warning when we woke up which meant no off base travel was authorized. However, after lunch the weather warning was lifted. Before you are allowed to travel off base you must visit a building to check out a radio, and fill out a trip plan with your personal info, and planned return time. There was quite the character in there. He was a Emergency Management worker from Denmark telling us about recent polar bear sightings and the possibility of finding some Inuit Seal hunters in nearby Dundas Village. He was joking (we think) about which of us could run faster, stating that whoever was slowest should be a distraction to the hungry polar bear, and the faster runner should survive!

LCDR John Woods and MIDN Eric Brugler stand in front of Mt. Dundas in Thule, Greenland. Credit: John Woods

We took a taxi (more about them later) to edge of Northstar Bay and began our trek across the sea ice towards Dundas Village. The village looked only a mile or so away, however, all features seem closer than they really are here due to extraordinary clear atmosphere, it is quite the optical illusion.  We got varying reports from folks how long it would take us to walk across the ice, from 1-2 hours. So off we went.

The clear Arctic atmosphere makes Dundas Village in Thule, Greenland, appear just a short distance away. Credit: John Woods

The wind was only about 10 or 15 knots, but right in our faces, which made any exposed skin very uncomfortable. We had our facemasks pulled up covering every last portion as we followed recent dog sled tracks towards the hunting village.  When we arrived (approximately 45 minutes) it was eerily quiet, as we hadn’t noticed any motion during our walk across the frozen bay. There were no signs of recent activity, minus LOTS of sled dog droppings, and a polar bear paw, with its fur and claws ripped from it.  We found it strangely odd that just this one paw was left behind with no other signs of anything, so we took a few photos, and put it back where we found it.

LCDR John Woods and MIDN Eric Brugler find a polar bear paw during their Arctic excursion. Credit: John Woods

We explored the dozen or so huts, and decided to climb the small incline past the village to see what was on the other side. What a site! Another frozen body of water was in front of us, but this time three large Icebergs were within walking distance. We decided to hike out to the nearest one and got some good photos climbing to the top. At this point we were outside for about two and half hours, and we graciously took the offer of a Danish couple, who was out for a sightseeing drive, for a ride back to base. They were very pleasant, and shared all sorts of neat information about what it is like to live in Greenland. He was a firefighter and EMT, and has been here for over three years and she has been here just over a year and was a physical therapist on base. They brought us up towards the BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning System more on this in a later post), and to some great vantage points over looking the Wolstenholme fjord. This is the only place in the world where four glaciers combine into one fjord, it was an amazing view!

Woods and Brugler hike by a fjord in Thule, Greenland. Credit: John Woods

On the way back to base, we stopped in one of the many Survival huts, to take a look around. These are all over the roads off base, and on base in case of a sudden storm that can create impassable white out conditions. It was an exciting day, filled with adventures that you just cannot experience in many other places on Earth!


2 Responses to “Day2: Exploring Thule and Surrounding Areas”

  1. Ted Dudziak says:

    My dad worked there for RCA on the BMEWS project. He spent a couple of months in Thule. He was able to get rid of the moon in the radar returns when sky was being scanned for ICBMs from Russia. Very cool pictures of the area. Will you be posting them anywhere later maybe on Photobucket?

  2. Operator 8 says:

    Hey fellas “Quite the caracter” here from Hilltop. Great article and nice pictures aswell…. I guess you both were excellent runners haha… Happy it worked out for you both :o)