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Notes from the Field

Oh, The Places We Can Go!

April 1st, 2013 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Lora Koenig


A view of Kulusuk.

March 31, 2013 — We just finished our last dinner, Easter dinner, in Kulusuk. We spoke with the helicopter pilots today and expect to have an 8:15 am flight to our location on the ice sheet about 100 km to the Northwest of Kulusuk, where the aquifer was drilled into last year for the first time.

We have had an exciting time in this beautiful village, population around 350. We are staying at the Hotel Kulusuk and have been their only visitors since we got here, something that comes with many perks. Bo, the chief and interim manager while the manager is on vacation, has allowed us to make ourselves at home. We had our science gear spread around the dining room, had access to the kitchen and hotel truck and were even allowed to hide candies around the hotel for Easter morning. The only thing we do not have, which we expected, was Internet. There is Internet in town but we currently can’t get log-on access and the person who can fix this is on vacation. He was supposed to return yesterday but didn’t show up on the flight so I imagine this blog post will be a bit delayed. All part of the adventure!

Not only do we have full run of the hotel but we are also granted some pretty amazing access to the airport, which has been storing all of our science cargo. Just yesterday after a plane landed, we walked right out to the baggage train to see if our gear had arrived. (A few days ago, Jay sorted one of the baggage carts just to be helpful since most of it was our gear anyway.) The plane was still on the tarmac but we are allowed to just walk around like we were employees. It is a small airport, and the manager knows us now. We have driven the airport trucks, which are unlocked with the keys inside, to move our gear. Car theft is not really an option here: there are only about 2 miles of road, which go from the airport to the hotel and to the warehouse were our cargo boxes are located, that’s it. Snowdrift on the road is higher than the roofs of the cars, so it feels like you are driving in a tunnel.

Our stored science cargo.

Our stored science cargo.

Snowdrift on the airport road.

Snowdrift on the airport road.

A dogsled team in the airport.

A dogsled team in the airport.

We were very anxious to get the plane cargo yesterday, March 30, because it was the last opportunity for our remaining gear to arrive before our scheduled put-in date. But let me start this story from the beginning. We have 2,030 kilograms (4,475 pounds) of gear that will accompany us into the field. As I wrote before, the gear was shipped from all over U.S. and took many different routes to get here. On Friday, March 30, we were told our generators and drill antifreeze coming in from Nuuk would not be arriving, but the back-up cutters coming in from Iceland would.  With no generators to run the drill (which itself had only arrived on March 27), we would have to delay our put-in. Not only were we told the generators would not be coming in, but that all planes that could carry them would be full until April 6, which would force us to delay by a week. We quickly started looking around for a generator and found one. After a few phone calls, we were granted access to use it. This was great news but left us with one problem: the ~200 lbs generator was 15 feet up in a loft, with just a few ladders to get it down. We dug around the warehouse and found two pulleys. Ludo and Jay got some of our rope, hooked the pulleys up to the rafter, attached the generator and safely lowered it to the ground. It was quite a sight.

kulusuk 016

Ludo and Lora lowering the generator.

To replace the antifreeze, we called the hospital in Tasiilaq to see if they had any medical alcohol that they could spare. They said they could send us 10 liters, which was sufficient. By Friday night, we had found replacements allowing us to stay on schedule if the original gear didn’t arrive.

On Saturday morning, we went up to the airport expecting to find the drill cutters. We ended up leaving with our generators and alcohol… but no cutters. Exactly the opposite of what we expected to get, but that is often how it goes. This was all good news because the cutters were backups (we have another set), so we could still stay on schedule for the April 1 put-in.

Testing the camping gear.

Testing the camping gear.

Jay and I spent the rest of Saturday loading all of our gear, which we had sorted into three helicopter loads, into baggage carts at the warehouse. The first load has food and camp supplies, the second science gear and the third the drill. The cargo was taken to the airport, where we unloaded it from the carts, weighed each piece and reloaded it again. We have now moved the 2,030 kg of gear at least four times, by hand – my arms are tired!

Rick and Clem spent the past few days preparing our thermistor strings, one 25-m and one 60-m-long cables with temperature sensors on them, for deployment on the ice sheet. One of the most important pieces of our project is to leave the temperatures strings in the ice to measure temperatures at 86 locations over the next year. The temperatures will help us understand how the much water is in the aquifer and how the aquifer may have formed.

The weather looks good for us to leave Kulusuk behind tomorrow and start our work. Everything is ready. We are well-fed and will get a good last night of sleep in the nice, soft, warm beds at the hotel. There is just one bad thing that has happened during our time in Kulusuk: everyday has been sunny and warm with no wind. “Why is this bad?”, you might wonder. Remember this is one of the snowiest and windiest areas of Greenland so, statistically, we know some bad weather will need to offset this good weather strike. We hope we do not have to pay for the current clear skies next week when we are in our tents trying to do science.

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One Response to “Oh, The Places We Can Go!”

  1. Jim in IA says:

    I appreciate having these blog posts. Please keep them coming.

    Last month I watched Chasing Ice with some friends. Parts of the movie brought tears to my eyes seeing the huge losses of ice. Your work measuring and documenting the Greenland Aquifer is very important.

    Thank you for your efforts. Best of luck. May all your equipment function well.