Today’s warm Nuuk welcome was from Klaus, the director of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, a research station of about 100 staff members here in Greenland which is providing crucial scientific advice to the government by conducting applied research on topics of direct interest to the Greenlandic people. Klaus gave us a tour of the absolutely beautiful, modern facilities at the institution. The buildings were rich with natural lighting and plants, decorated with informative posters and Greenlandic artifacts, and situated with an incredible view out to the harbor. More than one of us had thoughts drifting to post-doctoral research opportunities here. Klaus helped move the institute from Denmark to Greenland and, with the help of private donations, has built the ever-growing program we saw over the last 20 years or so. Even with their three large buildings, the institute is bursting at the seams and more construction is underway. Right now the two topics of greatest interest for Greenlanders, and therefore the topics of most current research at the center focus on animals (fisheries stocks, animal herd dynamics, and quota setting) and the potential impacts of mining and extraction.
After our tour of the research institute, we were offered the privilege of a boat ride out to their field station at the end of the fjord and a detailed site tour. The new field station, called Nuuk BASIC, focuses on a climate and ecosystem monitoring, differing from much of the applied research that is conducted at the rest of the institute. Some of the many studies underway at Nuuk BASIC are monitoring plant species composition shifts, carbon and methane fluxes from over saturated soils, and soil carbon content – similar to the work Julia and Simone are doing in Kangerlussuaq to better understand what will happen to soil carbon storage in a changing climate. The site is very new, set up in 2007, and only just this year moved out of tents and into a beautiful little cabin. Our tour guides, Josephine, who has directed the field station since its inception, and Stine, a Danish student beginning a masters thesis, were very generous with their time and explained the details of a number of their study sites to us, exchanging ideas and techniques with the soil and plant ecosystem members of our group.
The field site is staffed 3 days a week by a team of 4 researchers throughout their May-October field season, and set in a beautiful little river valley at the head of the fjord. Though I’m sure they have their bad weather and less fun days too, I’m awfully jealous that they can get out to such a beautiful and interesting field research station so easily, and spend only short times away from home. For polar researchers from New England, like us, the long field seasons which keep you away from home for months at a time make it a strain to balance our love for the artic places we study and our homes.
One particular study, which I found interesting at Nuuk BASIC, had a few dozen sample plots with shade covers to simulate greater cloud cover and in mini-greenhouses to simulate 2C warmer temperatures. Each week, they take a CO2 flux sampling apparatus and attach it to metal frame of the sample plot to measure the carbon dioxide flux from each plot, to learn how these sort of climate changes would change the CO2 storage in the ecosystem. This experiment differed from the experiments we did during our field section, which simply observed existing systems. We spent our effort trying to understand how things work in order to predict what might change under different climate conditions, while this experiment was attempting to directly change the climate conditions and see what happens. Both techniques have their strengths and weaknesses but it was cool to see that the problem is being approached with totally different methods.
Though we weren’t particularly in a hurry to leave, I was looking forward to the boat ride back the entire time. The research institute has an absolutely amazing boat for transport to and from town. Reputed to be the fastest boat in Nuuk, it was sleek, nimble, and cut through waves smoothly at 47 knots. Definitely a craft to be proud of and one that I certainly was wishing I could borrow for the weekend!