Upernavik Field Work 2018

2018 saw the Black & Bloom postdocs exploring a new field site in the north western sector of the Greenland Ice Sheet. After two seasons working in the south west near Kangerlussuaq, the team migrated north to investigate dark ice where the melt seasons are shorter and the temperatures lower.

Beautiful Upernavik, viewed from the airport (ph J Cook)

We soon learned that there were additional challenges to working up here beyond the colder weather. Upernavik itself is on a small island in an archipelago near where the ice sheet flows and calves into the sea. While this produces spectacular icebergs, it also means access to the ice sheet is possible only by helicopter. The same helicopter serves local communities elsewhere in the archipelago with food, transport and other essential services. While we were in Upernavik, a huge iceberg floated into the harbour in nearby Inarsuit, threatening the town with the potential for a huge iceberg-induced tsunami. The maritime Arctic weather also played havoc with the flight schedules, and resupplying local communities (rightly) took priority over science charters.

Iceberg near the harbour in Upernavik (ph. J Cook)_

These factors combined to prevent us from leaving Upernavik for 3.5 weeks. It seemed like we would never make it onto the ice. However, we finally got a weather window that coindided with heli and pilot availablity. With the difficulty of getting on to the ice weighing on our minds, we had to consider the risk of similar difficulties getting back out. We repacked to ensure we had several weeks of emergency supplies to make sure we would not be flying in to a potential search and rescue disaster.

Once on the ice, we quickly built a camp and started recording measurements quickly. The albedo measurements and paired drone flights went very smoothly, with refined methods developed over the past two seasons. However, we only saw exposed glacier ice for 1.5 days, and continuous snowfall kept it buried for the rest of the season.

Air Greenland’s Bell 212 sling loading our field kit (ph. J Cook)

Overall it was an interesting site, and the important thing is that we can confirm that the algal bloom we studied in the south west is also present in the northern part of the ice sheet, is composed of the same species and also makes the ice dark. We have sampled the mineral dusts too, to see how they compare with the more southern site.

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