Greetings once again – what a week we IGERTs have had! Our communication has been limited the past week as we’ve been immersed in our latest adventure, 5 nights of camping at the ice margin! We’ve now arrived back in Kangerlussuaq, where we’ll spend a couple days re-grouping before our flight on Monday to the capital city, Nuuk.
Until then, we thought we’d give you a little recap on how we spent our days on this past camping excursion!
Saturday, July 28
Goodbye Kangerlussuaq: Saturday morning we piled our personal packs, tubs of food, shovels, bug nets, microscopes, soil drill and inflatable zodiac boat into the back of two diesel trucks, and we started our journey up the long, winding dirt road to the ice margin!
Our first stop was a visit to the field site where fellow IGERT student, Julia Bradley-Cook, is currently conducting research on the effects of factors such as moisture and vegetation type on soil respiration.
Julia demonstrates to the group how she and field assistant and Dartmouth graduate, Courtney Hammond, have been using an special infared gas analyzer, or IRGA, to measure soil respiration. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.
After this, we pulled off the road in awe of the scenery at a site known as Sea Horse Lake. We were pleased to discover that this backdrop of interconnected, glacially fed lakes and rolling moraines was in fact our campsite!
Thanks to the amazing work of the KISS and CPS (CH2M HILL Polar Services) staff, in addition to our personal tents, our camp was complete with warm, wind-resistant Arctic oven tents – so we had one designated kitchen tent, and one which we outfitted with microscopes, text books, and a whiteboard as our laboratory/classroom!
Sunday, July 29
Soils galore: After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, dried fruit, and French-pressed coffee, we headed to the moraines behind our camping site, where we got down and dirty in the tundra soil. Our resident soil experts, Chelsea and Julia, taught us how to takes soil cores, dig pits, interpret soil layers, and – thanks to Chelsea’s powerful auger and her professional drilling skills – even experienced drilling into the permafrost!
Working as a team, the group spent the day collecting soil cores from 10 different sites. We took turns drilling, digging, measuring vegetation, sifting, weighing, and collecting soil layers, which they will take back to the lab at Dartmouth to ask questions about the biochemistry of the different soil layers, and carbon storage of the tundra.
Monday, July 30
Arctic limnology: This morning, we rolled up the road about 10 minutes to the beautiful setting for two small lakes. Here we pumped up our inflatable zodiac and donned our waders to study the plants and animals living in these arctic lakes. Battling the extreme winds that day made taking plankton samples and water chemistry measurements from the boat quite an epic journey! But we couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop. And we found some exciting species, which we will be sure to blog about in more detail soon.
Tuesday, July 31
Edge of the ice: After some seriously stellar discussions led by our very own Lee and Ali on glaciology and glacial geomorphology, we spent Tuesday hiking and exploring the landscape at ice margin. Walking through the moraine rubble we reached the ice edge, where we could actually see the transition from sediment, to films of sediment frozen in the ice, finally to solid ice extending as far as the eye could see. The features were amazing – ranging from quickly moving meltwater resembling wild winding ice luges, to deep murky holes of flowing water called moulins, which reached indeterminate depths.
Wednesday, Aug 1
Spiders, calving, and Jerry Garcia: For our last full day, we started by delving into theoretical population ecology, and then applying it to the field by examining local insect populations on our way to the Russell Glacier. We all practiced proper sweep netting technique to catch a variety of insects, which we then aspirated into jars to examine under the microscope later. What a boom we found in the spider population since last year – more on this later!
We stopped once more along the way through what is known as Vulgaris Valley after the aquatic plant found in the ponds there, Hiparus Vulgaris. Here we discussed the effects of factors like temperature, landscape morphology, moisture, and organisms on soil formation, carbon storage, and how these processes connect to the global carbon budget.
We then hiked to the edge of the Russell Glacier, where truck-sized blocks of ice regularly break off and plummet into the icy waters below, a process known as calving. With front row seats and icy wind stinging our faces, we were all humbled by the magnitude of this active material. It was a show we will never forget.
Finally, we concluded the evening with an annual commemorative IGERT procession to the top of the Sea Horse moraine. Here, we marveled at the panorama of ice sheet views, and paid tribute to the late, great renaissance music man, Jerry Garcia. Happy 70th , Jerry, all the way from Greenland!