Greenland Thaw: Measuring Change

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Greenland’s ice sheets are shrinking faster than ever, responsible for about a quarter of sea-level rise globally. Alison Glacier on Greenland’s northwestern coast is one place where ice flow to the sea has speeded up. From a tiny hunting and fishing village in the Upernavik Islands, scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will take ocean measurements to understand why Alison is surging to the sea faster than nearby glaciers. They will also work with villagers to continue data collection when they’re gone.
Updated: 6 min 42 sec ago

Reflections of a Changing North

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 07:48
View from our small Poco 500 fishing boat as we skirted through the ice to collect samples. (Photo M. Turrin)

View from our small Poco 500 fishing boat as we skirted through the ice to collect samples. (Photo M. Turrin)

No one ever leaves the field the same way they entered it. Yes there is a new layer of mud on equipment, the expected wear and tear on your personal gear and your physical being, but that is not what I am referring to. I am acknowledging the intangible shift in perspective from a deepened understanding and a broadened vision that has been provided by the experience and beyond that the questions that drive the next field campaign.

Fishing and hunting is still the main livelihood of the Kullorsuaq community.  This type of small Poca 500 with a hand winch was what we found along the waterfront. (Photo M. Turrin)

Fishing and hunting is still the main livelihood of the Kullorsuaq community. This type of small Poca 500 with a hand winch was what we found along the waterfront. (Photo M. Turrin)

The end of any field campaign is bittersweet. The adrenaline rush of the data collection phase slows to a more normal rhythm of daily life. There is a change from an unwavering focus on the many details of the project with a hard push day after day to extract as much out of the field time as possible, to a position of intense reflection. Was the campaign a success? Were we able to accomplish what we had hoped? Did we come away with the data we wanted? What did we learn? Should this project be repeated? or adjusted? perhaps expanded?

Our Reflections –

The Kullorsuaq waterfront. (Photo M. Turrin)

The Kullorsuaq waterfront. (Photo M. Turrin)

Establishing Connections

Our fledgling partnership has shown there is both a willingness and an interest among the local Greenlandic to work with scientists in collecting measurements. There is an aptitude for working with the instruments and a desire by them for the collected data on temperatures at depth in their local fjords to build a broader understanding of their environment. Both the science team and the Greenlandic fishermen see this data as important to planning for the future.  They are hopeful it will provide them insights to direct their fishing practices, which in this traditional community remains their main livelihood. We are hopeful it will provide evidence of processes driving change in the Greenland tidewater glaciers.

The Kullorsuaq fishermen are seen moving through the water at all times of the day and night. While we were there fishing conditions were difficult and fishermen were traveling well south to drop their lines. (Photo M. Turrin)

The Kullorsuaq fishermen are seen moving through the water at all times of the day and night. While we were there fishing conditions were difficult and fishermen were traveling well south to drop their lines. (Photo M. Turrin)

The Kullorsuaq fishermen have told and showed us that they will adapt to change in the north. We can help them adapt by providing them information that assists their choices and adjustments.

Deeper Understanding

Alison Glacier flows into Melville Bay just behind the rocky foot of Kullorsuaq (visible at the top of this photo). The bits of ice debris are loosely jumbled at this distance from the glacier front unlike at the mouth where they are densely packed. (Photo M. Turrin)

Alison Glacier flows into Melville Bay just behind the rocky foot of Kullorsuaq (visible at the top of this photo). The bits of ice debris are loosely jumbled at this distance from the glacier front unlike at the mouth where they are densely packed. (Photo M. Turrin)

When we arrived in this small community there were no water temperature measurements inside the fjords for this  area of Greenland.  We hoped to collect water column data that would tell us if this northwest corner of Greenland was being affected in the same way as other parts of Greenland, with warm Atlantic Water flowing in at depth. Bathymetry (bottom depth) measurements did not exist in this section of Greenland’s coastline and it turned out the area was much deeper than we had expected. When we planned the project the little data that is available showed depths of 400m, yet we lowered our instrument approximately 500 meters and only three of our casts reached bottom. The Kullorsuoq fishermen told us that in front of the glacier it is over twice this depth which they have learned from lowering their fishing line.

A preliminary look at one of our data casts shows the temperature dropping and then warming as the depth increases, a result of intersecting the different water masses. (Credit D. Porter)

A preliminary look at one of our data casts shows the temperature dropping and then warming as the depth increases, a result of intersecting the different water masses. (Credit D. Porter)

While we were not able to get data the full extent of the water column the measurements we collected confirmed that, as in other areas of Greenland, warm surface water (>4°C) is layered on top of colder fresh Polar Water (<-1.5°C), and below this, from about 200 m (700 ft.) and below, flows warmer Atlantic Water. As our equipment didn’t allow us to go the full water depth we don’t know how warm it  gets, but we know it exceeded 1.7°C and was still rising at the depth of the cast. This warm deep water is affecting glaciers like Alison that sit in deep fjord troughs by melting the ice at the base of the glacier, causing weakening and retreat.

Moving Forward

Map of the series of casts completed in front of Alison Glacier and Hayes Glacier to the north. Red was day 1 of sampling, Green was day 2.  (Credit D. Porter)

Map of the series of casts completed in front of Alison Glacier and Hayes Glacier to the north. Red was day 1 of sampling, Green was day 2. (Credit D. Porter)

Our sampling plan was adjusted to deal with the ice conditions in the field. We had to shift our collection points to work around the mélange in front of glacier. We focused the first day (shown in red) on getting as close to the ice front as possible, collecting a ‘transect’ or line of measurements, and surveying the smaller channels. Day 2 (shown in green) we extended the transect from day 1, tested for pathways to the outer shelf, and tested one of Hayes Glacier (just north of Alison) outlets paths, and collected some repeat measurements from Day 1 to see how conditions vary with time and tides.

Moving through the water to collect more samples is done by boat for summer sampling, but the conditions will be very different in the winter when dog sledges will be needed. (Photo M. Turrin)

Moving through the water to collect more samples is done by boat for summer sampling, but the conditions will be very different in the winter when dog sledges will be needed. (Photo M. Turrin)

We have plenty of data to analyze but in the future collecting data in other seasons and locations would be beneficial. According to our Greenlandic partners getting winter measurements in Kullorsuaq is possible using their dog sledges to move the instrument. Early spring would offer interesting conditions as well. The local fishermen are anxious to continue to work with us, and we hope to be able to continue and build on this partnership.

It is always bittersweet to leave an area where you have built connections and learned so much.  (photo M. Turrin)

It is always bittersweet to leave an area where you have built connections and learned so much, but we look forward to more opportunity to work together. (photo M. Turrin)

Qujanoq (kwee-yan-ok) to our new Greenlandic friends – Thank you.

Project Information: Dave Porter and Margie Turrin were in northwest Greenland working with local community members to collect water column temperature profiles. The Leveraging Local Knowledgeproject will work with members of local Greenlandic communities to collect water measurements in the fjords. This will assist in determining if warming Atlantic Ocean water is circulating up through Baffin Bay where it enters the fjords to lap against the frozen glacier footholds, causing them to loosen their hold on the rock below. Alison Glacier (74.37N and 56.08W) is selected as the project focus. Emptying into Melville Bay to the east of Kullorsuaq Island and has been undergoing dramatic change over the last decade.

The project is funded by the Lamont Climate Center with support from the NASA Interdisciplinary Program and logistical support from NSF.

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~dporter/Kullorsuaq/

A ‘Bumper-Car’ Ride in the Ice Mélange

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 09:28
Kullorsuaq's thumb is a beacon when on the water. (Photo M. Turrin)

Kullorsuaq’s ‘thumb’ serves a beacon when you are on the water. (Photo M. Turrin)

By this point many people in the village know about our project and greet us with ‘Aluu’ (Greenlandic Hello) as we move back and forth down the steep hill to the small harbor.  We are anxious to get back on the water but we need more benzene and are looking for a swivel that Magnus has suggested will improve the function of the line we are using on the CTD casts.

Magnus and Dave work on improving the CTD connection to the.  (Photo M. Turrin)

Magnus and Dave work on improving the CTD connection to the. (Photo M. Turrin)

Like many places around the world Sundays in Kullorsuaq get off to a slow start.  The local branch of the Pilersuisoq, a state owned general store with branches throughout Greenland, doesn’t open until 11AM on Sundays meaning little happens until close to noon. In this village the store serves as a type of community hub, it is where you purchase benzene, boating line, swivels, shackles, cigarettes, food and any other gear one might need for time out on the water.

Gabriel Petersen navigates through the ice with the GPS (Photo M. Turrin)

Gabriel Petersen navigates through the ice with the GPS (Photo M. Turrin)

Gabriel arrives at 11:30 AM as planned and although we can’t find the swivel Magnus had suggested we have a few back up options and so we begin to load. Dave hands Gabriel the GPS he loaded with a map and sample points. We learned yesterday that Gabriel really enjoys using this to navigate, employing his knowledge of the local waterway and the GPS points to smoothly move us as close as possible to the sample points.  We head out.

The local community talked of the distinction between large and small icebergs. Minitoq,the large iceberg, were described as being  more tabular in shape, very high and straight sided, extremely large and more dangerous when they split or broke apart because of the large waves they could generate or the sudden ice fall that could bury a boat.  The iceberg pictured here was not a minitoq but was large enough to be skirted with a respectful distance in the boat.

The local community talked of the distinction between large and small icebergs. Minitoq, the large iceberg, were described as being more tabular in shape, very high and straight sided, extremely large and more dangerous when they split or broke apart because of the large waves they can generate or the sudden ice fall that can bury a boat. The iceberg pictured here was not a minitoq but was large enough to be skirted with a respectful distance in the boat.

Today’s plan is to extend the sampling to include a wider region of the water exchange between Alison (Nanatakavsaup), the surrounding ocean and the connection to Hayes glacier. At the Village Meeting we had queried the local fisherman about the iceberg exit pathways for both Alison and Hayes to confirm or correct information we have gleaned from satellite imagery. These pathways should be where the water is the deepest providing the best connection to the open ocean, the measurements we are after.  On the water Gabriel and Magnus were able to provide more context to the discussions showing us regions that are shallow with larger icebergs ‘fast’ or grounded to the bottom, and other areas where the depth allows the icebergs to move more readily through to the open ocean.

Dave Porter and Magnus Petersen enjoy a koffemik while Gabriel navigates with the GPS (Photo M. Turrin)

Dave Porter and Magnus Petersen enjoying what we called a ‘boat kaffemik’. Gabriel is intent on the GPS as he navigates to the next sample spot. (Photo M. Turrin)

The Day 2 plan is just as aggressive as Day 1 with a minimum of 8 sample points intended.  We expect the workday will last a full 8 hrs. again.  Each day when we load into the boat Magnus pulls out a few surprises- a thermos of coffee complete with a box of sugar lumps, and snacks.

Greenlandic cake and coffee become a Kaffemik on the water. (Photo M. Turrin)

Greenlandic cake and coffee become a Kaffemik on the water. (Photo M. Turrin)

Today he has brought Greenlandic Cakes which include several loaves of cake with raisins and a chocolate glazed finger cake.  It will be just like a ‘Kaffemik’, the name for a popular open-house Greenlandic gathering of friends and family with coffee, cakes and visiting. We had been included in one a few days earlier in honor of a 15th birthday celebration in one of the local families. On a cool day in the small Poca 500 this is a real celebration with the coffee and food supplies layered on wrappers in the fishing line bucket.

When out on the water icebergs fill your vision in every direction. (Photo M. Turrin)

When out on the water icebergs fill your vision in every direction. (Photo M. Turrin)

The first few sample points go extremely well, we have a protocol down that seems efficient and we are smoothly moving through the sites.  A small island appears which is not on our map images or the map we purchased in Upernavik.  The shallower depths in this area match with ‘fast’ or grounded icebergs and requires an adjustment in two of the sample points of our transect.

Gabriel and Magnus climb to a high point to get a better view of the  dense ice pack in front of Alison fjord. (Photo M. Turrin)

Gabriel and Magnus climb to a high point to get a better view of the dense ice pack in front of Alison fjord. (Photo M. Turrin)

We complete 8 points with a bit of time left in our 8 hour day to fit in additional sampling.  The hope is to still collect a transect of 3 points close in across the mouth of the glacier but we have not navigated into that ice congested area today to see if it is possible.  We consult with Magnus and Gabriel – it is 18 km further in from where we are currently which could take an hour or more with the ice. ‘Suu’ (yes) they answer, they are willing to try. (Suu is pronounced with a quick inward most gasp of air and punctuates much of their conversation. Some speakers, like Magnus, follow it with a short inward whistle for emphasis.)  As Gabriel moves through the ice it closes around us so he suggests navigating in to land to climb up high for a vantage point.  He pulls over immediately and we clamber out to see what we can see. Gabriel can see what might be a pathway close to the north edge of Alison’s fjord outlet.

We found shells of sea urchins, mussels and Greenlandic scallops along the northern flank of Alison fjord. Dropped by the sea birds they seemed out of place against the ice scraped rock. (Photo M. Turrin)

We found shells of sea urchins, mussels and Greenlandic scallops on the southern flank of Alison Fjord. Dropped by the sea birds they seemed out of place against the ice scraped rock. (Photo M. Turrin)

We move towards the possible ice opening in what feels like boat bumper cars.  The ice is banging against the sides of the boat with regular thumps and knocks as Gabriel maneuvers expertly through the maze of ice mélange. Periodically I look back and he smiles and laughs when he catches my eye – hard to tell if he is trying to encourage me or if he is enjoying showing how well he can navigate the ice debris.  We make it across the front and in a bit along the north edge of the fjord before Gabriel suggests another lookout view is needed, and we stop to clamber up the rocks that form the northern flank of the Alison glacier outlet.

A look out is taken by our guides from on top of Alison Fjord's northern flank. (Photo M. Turrin)

A look out is taken by our guides from on top of Alison Fjord’s northern flank. (Photo M. Turrin)

This time the news is not so good.  The ice is pretty densely packed.  Magnus explains that Gabriel had been in this area just a few days ago edging his way up bit by bit to try to get to the front edge of the glacier to drop his fishing line. When he tried to work his way back out he had been stuck for several hours in the tightly packed ice and is reluctant to take us into that situation, especially this late in the day and with a threat of rain in the sky.

Reluctantly we take a look at the ice before us.  It is densely compacted.  Gabriel notes he can maneuver us back to resample one point we collected near the center of the glacier on Day 1. We are happy with this consolation for all the navigating through the ice.

 

 

Alison Fjord filled with icy mélange. (Photo M. Turrin)

Alison Fjord filled with icy mélange. (Photo M. Turrin)

As we collect this last site the rain begins to fall, and turns to a sharp biting storm on the way back to Kullorsuaq. Gabriel notes a seal just meters from the boat as we travel and quickly slows so we can get a look.  His sharp eyes have been spotting seals all day but they pop up quickly and we hardly catch a glimpse before they are gone.  This time the seal is much closer and we see its full head and flipper emerge. When asked if they could identify the type Magnus noted without hesitation “ours” – claiming it as the Greenlandic seal.

Project Information: Dave Porter and Margie Turrin are in northwest Greenland working with local community members to collect water column temperature profiles. The Leveraging Local Knowledge project will work with members of local Greenlandic communities to collect water measurements in the fjords. This will assist in determining if warming Atlantic Ocean water is circulating up through Baffin Bay where it enters the fjords to lap against the frozen glacier footholds, causing them to loosen their hold on the rock below. Alison Glacier (74.37N and 56.08W) is selected as the project focus. Emptying into Melville Bay to the east of Kullorsuaq Island and has been undergoing dramatic change over the last decade.

The project is funded by the Lamont Climate Center with support from the NASA Interdisciplinary Program and logistical support from NSF.

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~dporter/Kullorsuaq/

 

 

 

 

 

 

View from an Iceberg

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 11:13
Gabriel Petersen navigates his Poca 500GR into position for loading our equipment. (Photo M. Turrin)

Gabriel Petersen navigates his Poca 500GR into position for loading our equipment. (Photo M. Turrin)

The science goal for today is to complete 8 CTD casts.  We load into our vessel, a Poca 500GR.  We have discussed a 6 to 8 hour window of boat time with Gabriel the captain and Magnus our navigator and stocked up on 40 liters of benzene. The benzene sits in a clear jug by my side, from there funneled into the motor.  The container size suggests it could hold double the amount reminding me that when Gabriel can’t get in close to Alison fjord to drop his fishing line he will head farther south and will need plenty of benzene to make the trip.  Looking to the left I see another fisherman unloading 4 such containers – he has been out fishing all night and must have traveled a long distance.

Magnus Petersen and Dave Porter review GPS locations for CTD casts. (Photo M. Turrin)

Magnus Petersen and Dave Porter review GPS locations for CTD casts. (Photo M. Turrin)

The location of the casts is discussed with Magnus who relays the plan to Gabriel.  We head east navigating the channel between two of Kullorsuaq’s neighboring islands Sarqardlerssuaq and Kiatagssuaq.

Magnus notes that the ice that drops down the red rock face of Kiatagssuaq remains year round. (Photo M. Turrin)

Magnus notes that the ice that drops down the red rock face of Kiatagssuaq remains year round. (Photo M. Turrin)

The first cast will be in a shallower channel than the later casts. The set up requires an adjustment as this boat is outfitted with a hand winch and requires a cable switch to support our CTD.  Magnus and Gabriel are anxious to help with the set up for the CTD.  Magnus ties off the connection with a bowline, and although he doesn’t know it by that name the knot seems to be universal.  The clover-hitch is less familiar to him but he quickly figures out how to adapt it to a new situation.  Their interest in the equipment and what it might ultimately tell us confirms the goal of working with the local community.

Preparing the CTD - L-R Gabriel Petersen, Dave Porter, Magnus Petersen. (Photo M. Turrin)

Preparing the CTD – L-R Gabriel Petersen, Dave Porter, Magnus Petersen. (Photo M. Turrin)

M. Turrin uses the manual winch to lower the CTD. (Photo D. Porter)

M. Turrin uses the manual winch to lower the CTD. (Photo D. Porter)

The winch set-up is one that is comfortable to the Greenlandic as they use it to lower line 1000 meters down for fishing.  Several times during such a trip they will load hooks for 200 or more fish onto the line, lowering and hauling it back up by hand crank.

After the first cast we are faced with iced in conditions.  Gabriel maneuvers the boat as best he can but we will not be able to get to the point we had hoped to collect next.  Everywhere we look we are surrounded by ice, bits of mélange (ice rubble) cover the ice surface interspersed with larger icebergs.  We attempt to make our way down different channels to see if there is a pathway around some of the ice but it appears we will need to make adjustments to the cast points.

Magnus Petersen and Dave Porter prepare to lower the CTD into the fjord. (Photo M. Turrin)

Magnus Petersen and Dave Porter prepare to lower the CTD into the fjord. (Photo M. Turrin)

The next cast point was designed to get in as close to the face of Alison (Nanatakavsaup) as possible. Gabriel and Magnus have a quick discussion. Magnus explains that Gabriel wants to get to a high vantage point for better visibility.  We are thick in the center of the ice patch so Gabriel pulls up and stakes the boat onto an large iceberg, Magnus and Gabrial hop out onto the ice and after assuring us it is very safe invite us to join them – we don’t hesitate.

Tying up on the iceberg to check for access in the mélange. (Photo M. Turrin)

Tying up on the iceberg to check for access in the mélange. (Photo M. Turrin)

Gabriel heads high and looks all around.  Ice.  We will not be able to get the transect we had hoped but perhaps things will improve tomorrow as Magnus reminds us things can change quickly here.

Gabriel Petersen climbs up to the top of the iceberg to check for open water. (Photo M. Turrin)

Gabriel Petersen climbs up to the top of the iceberg to check for open water. (Photo M. Turrin)

We gather a cast where we are and then re-consult the GPS to move to another of our locations, in the end completing 8 cast during our first day in 8 successful hours on the water and look forward to more tomorrow, recalling that ‘things can change quickly here’.

Looking through an iceberg. (Photo D. Porter)

Looking through an iceberg. (Photo D. Porter)

A Meeting for the Kullorsuaq Community

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 19:58
Our community meeting was held in the new Kullorsuaq school. (Photo D. Porter)

Our community meeting was held in the new Kullorsuaq school, the blue and white building in the center of the cluster of buildings . (Photo D. Porter)

Søren, a local teacher in Kullorsuaq and our contact here, returned from a summer trip home to Denmark on today’s helicopter. He is instrumental in building a link to the community members suggesting we start with a meeting to explain our project to the residents.  We jot down a few lines for a flier that will be translated first into Danish and from there into Greenlandic to be posted around town.  We then head down to the waterfront to look for boating prospects. It seems that many of the local fishermen have gone Narwal hunting further north but there are several good prospects for boats that Søren will scout further as several of the fishermen are sleeping.  The fishing is better right now at night and with 24 hours of daylight day or night fishing doesn’t really seem to matter.

Magnus and Gabriel meet with Dave to discuss the planning for our measurements. (Photo M. Turrin)

Magnus and Gabriel meet with Dave to discuss the planning for our measurements. (Photo M. Turrin)

Within what seems to be hours news has spread around the community that we are looking for a boat and we have been introduced to Gabriel and his cousin Magnus. Gabriel has a sturdy trustworthy boat and Magnus can translate for us.  We have a team. We will have to make some adjustments as Gabriel has a winch, but it is a hand crank.  We have a power winch but he does not have a battery available so we will need to switch the line to make it work.  The loose ice is also shifting Gabriel notes which might help our ability to reach the sites we hope to sample.

Fishermen and community members from the town meeting. (Dave, Edvin (meeting translator), Søren, Gabriel, Ella, Magnus in the back row). (Photo M. Turrin)

Fishermen and community members from the town meeting. (Dave, Edvin (meeting translator), Søren, Gabriel, Ella, Magnus in the back row, other community members front row). (Photo M. Turrin)

The town meeting is an opportunity to share information.  We cover the project goals, existing studies and resulting understanding of ice/ocean interactions around Greenland, show the CTD instrument (for measuring conductivity, temperature and depth) and explain why we are here in Kullorsuaq.  We then gather around the maps we have brought and learn from the local fishermen about water depths, ice conditions, and recent changes in the area around Kullorsuaq.

Gathering feedback from the community members on depths in the fjords. (Photo M. Turrin)

Gathering feedback from the community members on depths in the fjords. (Photo M. Turrin)

According to the fishermen the area in front of Allison is much deeper than the small amount of available data had shown.  The best fishing is right in front of the glacier – what we call Alison they smile and call Nanatakavsaup.  The depth is great there and they let down lines 1000 meters long to hook the Greenlandic Halibut.  They let the line stay an hour or so but not too long so they don’t feed their catch to the Greenlandic shark that share the water. We ask them to jot down on the map wherever they know depths.  Some depths they know from dropping their lines, others they learned from larger fishing boats that came into the area with depth finding sonar.

Amasat a small fish that arrived recently in northwest Greenland. (Photo M. Turrin)

Amasat a small fish that arrived recently in northwest Greenland. (Photo M. Turrin)

New fish have moved in over the last few years. Cod, Catfish and Salmon have moved into the area and Amasat arrived about 7 years ago. Amasat were smaller when they first arrived but they have now put on a little size, although they are still only 6-7 inches in length.  Like sardines they are eaten completely, fins, bones and head.

The night view of the  Kullorsuaq waterfront where the darkness never comes at this time of year. (Photo M. Turrin)

The night view of the Kullorsuaq waterfront where the darkness never comes at this time of year. (Photo M. Turrin)

The meeting runs until everyone has added and shared what they can. The locals note that the ice conditions can turn around in a day so we are hopeful about our ability to get up close to the front of the glacier when we head out in the morning with Gabriel and Magnus.

Project Information: Dave Porter and Margie Turrin are in northwest Greenland working with local community members to collect water column temperature profiles. The Leveraging Local Knowledge project will work with members of local Greenlandic communities to collect water measurements in the fjords. This will assist in determining if warming Atlantic Ocean water is circulating up through Baffin Bay where it enters the fjords to lap against the frozen glacier footholds, causing them to loosen their hold on the rock below. Alison Glacier (74.37N and 56.08W) is selected as the project focus. Emptying into Melville Bay to the east of Kullorsuaq Island and has been undergoing dramatic change over the last decade.

The project is funded by the Lamont Climate Center with support from the NASA Interdisciplinary Program and logistical support from NSF.

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~dporter/Kullorsuaq/

‘Thumbs Up’ for Travel to Kullorsuaq

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:46
The local coastline has been steeped in fog which prevents helicopters from flying the Upernavik to Kullorsuaq leg. (Photo M. Turrin)

The local coastline has been steeped in fog which prevents helicopters from flying the Upernavik to Kullorsuaq leg. (Photo M. Turrin)

For the last few days we have been laying the groundwork for getting to Kullorsuaq.  We have missed flights due to engine difficulties and have been grounded due to dense fog along the coastline. Today we are assured the helicopter will fly, taking us to our science destination.

While waiting at the airport for our helicopter, a small plane arrives from Upernavik filled with a local sports team decorated with medals hanging from ribbons around their necks. Tossing coins in celebration is part of the reception. (Photo M. Turrin)

While waiting at the airport for our helicopter, a small plane arrives from Upernavik filled with a local sports team decorated with medals hanging from ribbons around their necks. Tossing coins and a Greenlandic cheer set against the fjord is part of the celebration. (Photo M. Turrin)

Our flight is delayed a few hours due to low-lying fog. At the small airport a smiling woman approaches us asking our plans in one word “Kullorsuaq?”  We smile and nod and she grins broadly motioning that she and her daughter are going there too – it is their home she manages to convey.

Landing at the Kullorsuaq ‘helipad’. The helipad is surrounded by canisters of gasoline used to refuel for the return leg. The local transport of luggage and gear is a front loader that delivers the gear to your door. (Photo M. Turrin)

Landing at the Kullorsuaq ‘helipad’. The helipad is surrounded by canisters of gasoline used to refuel for the return leg. The local transport of luggage and gear is a front loader that delivers the gear to your door. (Photo M. Turrin)

Community turns out to wait for helicopter.  Child is holding a Greenlandic flag. (Photo M. Turrin)

Community turns out to wait for helicopter. Child is holding a Greenlandic flag. (Photo M. Turrin)

There are five on our helicopter, our friend from the airport and her young daughter and another woman who slides to the middle seat and willingly becomes our ‘navigator’, pointing on the map and motioning in gestures to us regularly. She mimes birds, seals, steep cliffs, and finally the thumb that marks our final destination – Kullorsuaq, or Big Thumb, named for the prominent thumb shaped rock that projects skyward in the middle of the small island. Some maps use the Danish name Djoevelens Tommelfinger (Devil’s Thumb) a name that Edvard had noted was in reference to the difficult currents that in stormy conditions can surround the island and threaten a boat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kullorsuaq Island, Greenland -  the Big Thumb. (Photo M. Turrin)

Kullorsuaq Island, Greenland – the Big Thumb. (Photo M. Turrin)

Now that we have arrived in Kullorsuaq we are in reach of the fjord we have come to measure. Communication is a challenge – a word or two meets with smiles and agreement but ‘hello’ and ‘bye’ seem to be the extent for most.  The village is small, overlooking a southern spur on the main fjord.  Our goal is to travel to the north where Alison glacier empties, so we climb to a high point to see if we can get a better idea of the ice extent.  From our vantage we can see open water, which is encouraging, but we don’t have a view of the full fjord where conditions may differ.

Overlooking the small village of Kullorsuaq. (Photo M. Turrin)

Overlooking the small village of Kullorsuaq. (Photo M. Turrin)

A check in later with the science team in Kangerlussuaq gives us the disappointing news that the satellite image shows that sometime between the 8th and 11th Alison fjord has filled with mélange (chunks of ice). The innermost data points will be unreachable unless conditions change so we will spend a few hours re-planning collection points so we are ready if current conditions persist. Tomorrow the teacher we have been in contact with in the local school is due to return and we can begin to build connections with the local community members, asking for their help in traveling into the fjord.

Looking down on the bay from atop the western end of Kullorsuaq. (Photo M. Turrin)

Looking down on the bay from atop the western end of Kullorsuaq. (Photo M. Turrin)

Project Information: Dave Porter and Margie Turrin are in northwest Greenland working with local community members to collect water column temperature profiles. The Leveraging Local Knowledge project will work with members of local Greenlandic communities to collect water measurements in the fjords. This will assist in determining if warming Atlantic Ocean water is circulating up through Baffin Bay where it enters the fjords to lap against the frozen glacier footholds, causing them to loosen their hold on the rock below. Alison Glacier (74.37N and 56.08W) is selected as the project focus. Emptying into Melville Bay to the east of Kullorsuaq Island and has been undergoing dramatic change over the last decade.

The project is funded by the Lamont Climate Center with support from the NASA Interdisciplinary Program and logistical support from NSF.

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~dporter/Kullorsuaq/

The Son of a Hunter

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 21:36
Dave (r) speaks with Edvard (l) about his life as a young Greenlandic growing up as the son of a hunter. (Photo M. Turrin)

Dave (r) speaks with Edvard (l) about his life as a young Greenlandic growing up as the son of a hunter. (Photo M. Turrin)

A visit to the Upernavik museum brought us to ‘Edvard’ a young Greenlandic and the local museum curator.  Embracing the opportunity to practice his English he enthusiastically spent time sharing the historic art and past of the community and his experiences as a young adult growing up in a Greenland that is shifting from one set of cultural norms to another.

Greenlandic mythology (photo M. Turrin)

Greenlandic mythology image (photo M. Turrin)

The first building of the museum is dedicated to traditional Greenlandic art.  An entire room is filled with the creatures of Greenlandic mythology dating back to well before the Danish arrived in the land. The focus of the art revolves around the challenge of the life of a hunter: Ingnerssuit the underground spirits who weep with the springtime cracking of the ice which ends the winter hunt season; Imap Ukua, mother of the sea who must right the evil deeds of all mankind by releasing the seals that have become bound, thus enabling the hunters’ success; Anguit the spirit and looks like a seal who guides the success of the hunt.

The second building is filled with skins, boats and the tools of the hunt.  Seals dominate the display but a walrus and narwal are also on exhibit.  The life of a hunter is hard, it is a test of strength, seal against man.  Edvard explains that one will lose and it is sometimes the hunter.  A choice must be made whether to release the catch or be pulled to their death.  It takes physical strength, understanding of the situation and conditions and the ability to judge when to continue and when to let go of the hunt. A hunter is a respected member of the community, there is much to know in being a good hunter.

Greenlandic (harp) seal skin with the horseshoe shape on its back. (Photo M. Turrin)

Greenlandic (harp) seal skin with the horseshoe shape on its back. (Photo M. Turrin)

Here Edvard begins to talk of his own father, born a hunter. For many years he supported his family hunting seal, polar bear and whale.  Both Menke & Narwal (monodon monoceros – meaning one horn one tooth) were part of his catches over the years. He loved the life of a hunter and Edvard, his son, was anxious to join in his trips, asking as a young son if he too could go.  His father was careful in sharing this hunting life with his son, seeing that change was coming and that the life of a hunter was no longer going to be a way for many of the people.  He did not want Edvard to join him in hunting for fear he would like it too much, for he know that Edvard was born with a hunter’s spirit just as he was himself.  He wanted his son to be free to have a different life.

Anguit, in Greenlandic mythology the spirit who looks like a seal and guides the success of the hunt. (Photo M. Turrin)

Anguit, in Greenlandic mythology the spirit who looks like a seal and guides the success of the hunt. (Photo M. Turrin)

By 2000 Edward’s father’s love for hunting could not continue to sustain their family.  The ice season had shortened, and the changes in the ice meant that he could hunt for only 5 or 6 months, not enough to support his family.  For musk ox there was a lottery designed to ensure that not too many were taken, while offering a protection for the animal it caused problems for the hunters who depended on their meat and skins. Hunters today must also be fishermen taking advantage of the open water where the ice once filled the bay. That is a hard life.

Ingnerssuit the underground spirits who weep with the springtime cracking of the ice which ends the winter hunt season (Photo M. Turrin)

Ingnerssuit the underground spirits who weep with the springtime cracking of the ice which ends the winter hunt season (Photo M. Turrin)

Edvard’s father now drives a truck in the town hunting only as a hobby, able to join a friend who continues to fish and hunt for a livelihood.  The knowledge of where the prey will be, the water depths and currents, all the pieces that are essential to a successful hunter are still valued, but the changed conditions means there is not the ability to support all who once hunted. The changes in the ice are having a direct impact on the Greenlandic people.  Perhaps we should turn to the Greenlandic mythological spirits and ask for their help.  Where are Anguit and Imap Ukua?  Are the Ingerssuit weeping so loudly the other gods can not hear?

Project Information: Dave Porter and Margie Turrin are in northwest Greenland working with local community members to collect water column temperature profiles. The Leveraging Local Knowledge project will work with members of local Greenlandic communities to collect water measurements in the fjords. This will assist in determining if warming Atlantic Ocean water is circulating up through Baffin Bay where it enters the fjords to lap against the frozen glacier footholds, causing them to loosen their hold on the rock below. Alison Glacier (74.37N and 56.08W) is selected as the project focus. Emptying into Melville Bay to the east of Kullorsuaq Island and has been undergoing dramatic change over the last decade.

The project is funded by the Lamont Climate Center with support from the NASA Interdisciplinary Program and logistical support from NSF.

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~dporter/Kullorsuaq/

The Changing Upernavik Waterfront

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 07:01

Leveraging Local Knowledge to Measure Greenland Fjords: Understanding the Community 

GreenlandicLight2Sm

Project location. Currently we are located in Upernavik prior to moving on to Kullorsuaq.

Project location. Currently we are located in Upernavik prior to moving on to Kullorsuaq.

Project Background: Changing conditions in Greenland’s northwest glaciers over the last decade have led to a range of questions about water temperature and circulation patterns in the fjords where ocean water meets the glacial fronts.  We can use satellites to measure the loss of elevation, the acceleration of ice flow, or the retreat of ice from a glacier, but we can’t use satellite measurements to collect water column temperature profiles. Water column profiles would allow us to better determine how much melt is possible at the glacier connection to the ocean, and help us pinpoint why neighboring glaciers are behaving differently.

The Leveraging Local Knowledge project will work with members of local Greenlandic communities to collect water measurements in the fjords. This will assist in determining if warming Atlantic Ocean water is circulating up through Baffin Bay where it enters the fjords to lap against the frozen glacier footholds, causing them to loosen their hold on the rock below. Alison Glacier (74.37N and 56.08W) is selected as the project focus. Emptying into Melville Bay to the east of Kullorsuaq Island and has been undergoing dramatic change over the last decade.

Our Journey: Our research trip to the small village of Kullorsuaq is a journey that will start 200 kms to the south in the community of Upernavik, located 800 kms north of the Arctic Circle. Flying in on a small 37 seat Dash 7 airplane we overlook a coastline that is lined with glaciers flowing into a bay that is dotted with islands.  Most are uninhabited, but Upernavik is home to a population of 1500 permanent residents. An island community, the main employment is fishing with the waterfront sporting a range of both commercial and smaller independent fishing boats.

Fishing

Fishing is a major occupation in this waterfront community (Photo M. Turrin)

Upernavik town was established by the Danes in the late 1700s but trade and a religious mission in the early 1800s cemented it as a permanent settlement. The southern end of the island is dotted with a cross covered graveyard representing the religion the Danish settlers brought and the practice of the current community. Christmas, Three Kings Day and other religious holidays are all causes for the community to celebrate. This week the priest will visit Upernavik to celebrate three weddings (Friday and Saturday) and the Confirmation (Sunday).  With all such events scheduled for when the priest can preside the parties and celebrations will involve the whole community for days. Celebration and gatherings are a large part of this community’s practice.

Upernavik graveyard (Photo M. Turrin)

Upernavik graveyard (Photo M. Turrin)

The Setting: The icebergs being sloughed from the neighboring glaciers dominate the horizon, littering the waterfront with ice ranging from house-sized blocks to looming masses that appear as large as the neighboring islands. Looking around at the open water it is hard to imagine the origin of these large masses of ice.  The closest blocks of ice move during the course of the day, shifting back and forth from north to south and back again.  With the shifting and changing of the icebergs the sound of the settling and collapsing of ice is drilled into our consciousness – the sharp crack of the ice as if fractures and the larger canon-like rumble as sections break and fall into the water.

Large Iceberg on the waterfront (Photo M. Turrin)

Large Iceberg on the waterfront (Photo M. Turrin)

Our local host, a Dane who has lived in Upernavik for 40 years, has fully blended himself into the community where he and his family are well known and liked by both the Inuit and the Danish population. When he learns of our project he observes that in his time here ice cover has significantly changed. He recalls his early years here when the ice in May was so solid in the bay that visiting boats had to drop dynamite on the ice to open a pathway. He points to the open water and the line of haze that hangs on the horizon offering a cause, ‘global heating’.

The Community of Upernavik (Photo M. Turrin)

The Community of Upernavik (Photo M. Turrin)

Other changes have hit Upernavik.  We meet a Danish couple who had spent 4 years living in the community, now returning after 30 years to ‘close out their memories’.  They spoke with fondness of this lost time when they raised their small children as they worked as a teacher and a nurse.  With a team of 10 dogs ‘Lars’ had hunted Greenlandic seal and still had a sharp eye picking a bobbing seal head out on the horizon. They spoke of the people numbering 900 while the Greenlandic dogs had numbered 3000, many times more than the dogs are now. Dogsleds were an important part of that older Upernavik when individual hunting and fishing were the mainstay of the community. While hunting and fishing are still important today Lars notes that things have changed becoming less rugged for an individual. Whether the changes in ice cover have played a part in this is hard to determine.

Bear Skin

Polar Bearskin hangs off front porch in Upernavik (Photo M. Turrin)

In our few days here in Upernavik we learn that residents are happy to help, they have networks that reach from one island community to another.  Names and contacts are offered freely – “try this person for a place to stay”, “this teacher may be interested in helping you”.  It is this networking of local people that we will rely on for the project. Their overall interest in what is happening to their community will be an important part of its long term success.

Glaciers in Upernavik Waterfront (Photo M. Turrin)

Icebergs in Upernavik Waterfront (Photo M. Turrin)

 

Leveraging Local Knowledge to Measure Greenland Fjords:
Dave Porter and Margie Turrin are in northwest Greenland working with local community members to collect water column temperature profiles.  The project is funded by a Lamont Climate Center grant with support from the NASA Interdisciplinary Program and logistical support from NSF.

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~dporter/Kullorsuaq/