By Clément Miège
Kulusuk, 26 March 2014 — “Opa” is a Greenlandic word for “maybe”, as we learned it this morning while talking to Danish guests at the hotel Kulusuk who have been stuck for a few days due to bad weather.
To give you a little bit of background, the southeastern part of Greenland witnesses the highest precipitation rates of the island, in conjunction with strong winds (either from the ocean or the ice sheet). Often, the weather is unpredictable, especially at this time of year. Therefore, conducting fieldwork in southeast Greenland is a gamble.
Last year, when we experience really great weather in Kulusuk the week before our field work, we did not fully realize how lucky we were to be able to go to the field as scheduled. This year, it has been a different story: we have already gone through two storm systems, and yesterday night a third storm hit us, with a lot of wind and snow. We feel like we are paying the price of last year’s fantastic weather.
That being said, this weather is good to prepare the cargo for our flights to the ice sheet. We spent a good part of Sunday getting the low-frequency radar system ready. We worked on the radar sleds, as well as on the tube that will keep the radar antenna straight when we drag the system on the snow surface.
On Monday, we went to the village of Kulusuk to buy some supplies (we are currently staying in a hotel that is about a 30-minute walk from the village). On our way to the village, we saw four teams of dog sleds ready to leave for Apusiaajik glacier. The dog sleds are carrying skiers and a week-worth of their base camp materials, so the skiers can enjoy the fresh snow!
We walked around the village to get some nice views of the ocean and the sea ice. As we were walking, Ludo made a local friend! A Greenlandic kid who was a really fun guide and gave us a tour for an hour. At some point, we realized that he was always avoiding the direction of the school!
After that, we went to the store and got some food and a propane tank for our stove on the ice sheet. We found everything we needed and headed back to the hotel. We finished the day at the airport further organizing the science equipment.
Tuesday, Ludo and I went back to the airport warehouse and finished organizing the cargo for the helicopter flights. We’ve prepared two distinct: one consists of our camp gear, sleep kits, food, personal gear, and some science equipment. The other (which can arrive later), is composed by the rest of the science gear.
Wednesday has been different, and we thought it would be “fun” to walk you through the steps that we have gone through today in terms of decision-making:
In the morning, Thursday’s flight is still ‘opa’. We are optimist and getting ready to leave, packing personal bags and organizing the last bits of equipment.
2 pm: The weather is not improving much and we start wondering if we will still be able to leave tomorrow. According to the forecast, a break in the storm system is still possible for tomorrow, but we would need it to last for at least a couple of hours, so that we can have one or two helicopter rotations from Kulusuk to our camp on the ice sheet. Each helicopter rotation takes about 2 hours.
3:15 pm: We receive an email from our project manager, based in the US. The helicopter company (Air Greenland) advises us not to leave for the ice sheet tomorrow since an extreme storm is coming for the next days and our team will be incapacitated (meaning that we will not be able to leave the tent for four to six days). This email is worrying us further, and we do not need to be trapped in a tent on the ice sheet without being able to do any work. It is a difficult decision to make, since the weather will be good tomorrow. Moreover, if we leave, we would be able to start working as soon as the storm passed and not be risk further delays in getting to camp, since the helicopter might be needed for other important duties, like resupplying villages. We have to balance the pros and cons — put simply, we have to balance spending four to six days in a tent doing nothing but trying to stay warm vs. gaining about half a day of work, since that way we would not need to wait for our put-in flight. After an intense discussion involving our partners and the weather office, we finally decide that we will not fly tomorrow.
4 pm: Our flight for tomorrow is officially canceled.
7 pm: Even if it does not make any sense to have a passenger flight tomorrow due to this upcoming weather system, we think that it will be really valuable to have a cargo flight to drop our equipment. Hence, only one helicopter load will still need to be transported when the storm is over. We’re still working on this option.
We are not sure when we will be flying, but at least we are ready. Please keep your fingers crossed for some good weather. More updates soon, opa!
All the best from snowy Kulusuk!