Archive for the ‘2010 Field Seminar’ Category

One of the many topics we covered in Dartmouth’s IGERT courses is the concept of Local Knowledge (LK), that is, knowledge acquired and held by people who live in a certain area or region. This is similar to Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), however TEK is generally thought to have a historical component and is passed down and shared across generations.

Both LK and TEK have cultural and scientific value. Here in Greenland we have been privy to both. Last year Julia and I learned about ‘Sea Tomatoes’ in a lake outside of town, passed on to us as Local Knowledge by some Danish friends who live in Kangerlussuaq.
sea tomatoes
sea tomatoes
While not really from the sea and not really tomatoes, we would have never learned of this unique ecological feature if it weren’t for the sharing of Local Knowledge. After exploring the lake with sea tomatoes and doing a bit of research, we learned that these are actually cyanobacteria, specifically Nostoc, and quite common in the Arctic. Nostoc is known to form large colonies, however, none quite as big as what we found here in Greenland.
colossal sea tomato
[Colossal Sea Tomato found on 15 June 2011.]
Hoping the 2011 IGERT field seminar students can continue to unravel the mystery of these Sea Tomatoes.

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Sorry to those of you reading that we haven’t posted in the past week. As much a fun and amazing experience as getting to go to Greenland for field work was, being home sure is nice, and things tend to pile up when your gone. I’ve spent the past week mowing and baling my lawn, cleaning out some questionable items in my fridge, getting through most of my ignored email, doing some (nasty) laundry, repainting (maybe this wasn’t necessary), and catching up with family and friends. I didn’t want to leave our postings about Nuuk as they were however, because such would be a disservice to the amazing friends who offered us such incredible hospitality in Nuuk.

A key theme of our hospitality in Nuuk was food; local, delicious, Greenlandic food. Some hunted, some gathered, and some farmed… all amazing. Though we attempted to kick off our Greenlandic food trials at a restaurant our first night with a tasting of various muskox, whale, and reindeer dishes, our true introduction evening came from the gracious hosting of the Poppels. The Poppels really gave us the insider’s scoop on the luxuries of Greenlandic food by providing us with an incredible 5+ course, home made dinner almost 100% from Greenland, complete with commentary and lively discussion on each dish. I simply could not say enough how amazing it was.

Poppel's view!
View from the Poppels’ back deck!

Course 1:

Greenlandic Heather Smoked Char seasoned with Ground Angelica Leaves.

Greenlandic Lump Fish on Toasted Rye Bread with Crème Fraiche.

Course 2:

Greenlandic Scallops, with Roe, Roasted with Garlic

Greenlandic Snow Crab

Course 3:

Smoked Greenlandic Minke Whale, Smoked Greenlandic Lamb, Smoked Greenlanidic Muskox, and Rolled, Parsely Seasoned Belly of Greenlandic Lamb; all Served with Garnishes of Scrambled Eggs, Homemade Greenlandic Pickled Beetroots, Cornichons, and Homemade Marmalades of Greenlandic Rhubarb and Crowberry.


Greenlandic Reindeer Steak with Greenlandic Potatoes and Wild Greenlandic Bolete Mushrooms in a Seasoned with Honey Mustard Reduction.


Greenlandic Coffee (coffee with added Kahlua, Irish Whiskey, whipped cream and burned Grand Marnier)

Local Beverages:

‘Christmas Beer 2009’ and ‘Irish Porter’ both brewed at the local micro brewery, Godthåb Bryghus

Greenlandic Vodka (SIKU) with three different flavours: ‘Angelica’, ‘Crowberry’ and ‘Dried content from a ptarmigan’s gizzard’

Water flavored with pieces of Angelica stalk

Things didn’t end there. We discovered one part of the Danish influence in Greenland likely to be pretty much uncontroversial… the Danes had brought with them the recipe for a pastry which bears their name, in its true and most delicious form. Those of us used to eating such fine products as Wonder Bread, even in towns, during fieldwork were beyond delighted. Acquiring pastries quickly became a morning ritual for some of us, perhaps to the detriment of our waistlines.

No sooner had we downed our first set of pastries, it was time to meet with the “Food Ambassador of Greenland”. Anna Sophie, an ex-banker who has decided to make a career change, and who now devotes her time to the pursuit of writing and creating food. We met her at the hunters and fishers market to begin the process of making our second five star Greenlandic dinner. The market is certainly a sight to behold. Clearly this venue is what American Grocers are trying (poorly) to imitate with the meat and fish counters at the back of the store. This open air market, however, held a bounty of quantity, quality, and freshness unparalleled in even the most expensive grocers, if display was a bit less lavish. Whole Cod, Char, and Wolf Fish on one table. Filets of Halibut, Redfish, and Dried Capelin on another.  Replacing the “big three” (beef, chicken, and pork) of American stores was a freshly quartered Reindeer yearling next to a mostly butchered muskox. Further back, a Minke whale is being parted out, tongue in one bin, Mataq (skin and blubber) in another, roasts, flukes… its all there. The deep red meat of a seal stands out on another table, just below the dried fish rack. There are blueberries and crowberries, a few packs of frozen Greenlandic Prawns. The listed price for meat is flat rate – 70 kroner per kilo for Reindeer (about $5.75/lb), even though all the cuts are present. Its clear that the price is only for us tourists, haggling is expected based on the cut, the freshness, the weather, your current mood, and whatever else you feel is important in a pricing decision. Much of the meat is not yet completely butchered. We buy the whole hind quarter of a young reindeer, and a large chunk of whale. Anso (as Anna Sophie is often called) isn’t pleased with the fish selection this particular day, so off we head to the supermarket, where there is an entire frozen section of similar catches. From these we select a small, whole frozen, Greenlandic halibut before perusing the rest of the store for other additions to the meal.

Anso had planned the meal in advance, and after a quick tour of her home (which has an amazing view of the harbor) put us to work on preparing the various dishes. The preparation started with Anso dropping the Reindeer quarter on the counter with a bit of splatter and sound for effect, before dismantling it into roasts, steaks, and tidbits (which we used the following day as pizza topping). Far from the concerns of bacterial strains evolved on a Nebraska feedlot with names like O157:H7, we tried a bit of raw reindeer – very good in my opinion, but mixed reviews in the group overall. A few hours of snacking and cooking later we’d transformed our ingredients into yet another amazing meal this time the menu included:

Reindeer Carpaccio

Halibut Sushi

Raw Greenlandic Prawns

Roast Reindeer

Potato salad

Reindeer Steaks

Greens Salad

Raspberry Custard Dessert

In order to aid our digestion, we also had the treat of the incoming darkness around the time of a mild geomagnetic storm and simultaneous meteor shower, under a new moon, with noctilucent clouds in the Northern twilight. The show, while not the most vivid Aurora ever, featured some beautiful dancing green and red curtains, with an overhead “gods eye” and was complimented incredibly by the darkness of the old Harbor, quaint buildings, occasional meteor streak, and electric blue glow of the noctilucent clouds, making it a sky to remember two nights in a row.

On our final night in Nuuk, the remaining three of us gave our talks at the cultural center. Nearly rescheduled or canceled due to the arrival of Greenpeace protesters and anti-protestors, the talks still went off, and many of our new friends were dedicated enough to brave the boos of the crowd outside (who didn’t understand there was a second event in Katuaq, unrelated to the Greenpeace talks) to attend.

To me, the dynamic of Greenpeace (an organization which I used to be a member of) being in Greenland was extremely interesting and I asked many people about it, and so I digress a bit. Greenpeace, it seems, made a very bad name for itself in Greenland by opposing the seal hunt and helping to institute a ban on the importation of seal products in Europe and (more importantly) killing the market for seal goods by changing public opinion. This took away many Greenlanders ability to earn a living in a more traditional way, hunting on the ocean, and has resulted in a significant expansion of the seal population which now competes with fisherman, directly on a few species, and indirectly on many others. Apparently, some national Greenpeace organizations have apologized to the Greenlandic people for the harm they did economically and culturally by protesting the seal hunt, but others have not. I didn’t quite catch which one was which, but the organization which was present in Greenland this day was not warmly received judging by the size of the counter protest. Their mission this time, however, was not seal hunting related, but rather protesting the offshore exploratory oil drilling which has been authorized by the Greenlandic government and is now being undertaken by Scottish Cairn Energy off the West coast of Greenland. The frustration of many people we talked to was apparent. There is a feeling that Greenpeace is opposed to the use of more or less all Greenland’s resources, both the renewable and non-endangered seals, and now the oil, which is, we are told, being developed using Norwegian safety standards, much higher than U.S. standards. One key difference, explained to us, is that parallel wells are drilled from the start so that a relief well is already present (rather than 3 months away) if something should go wrong. The feeling on the street is something like, “here we have a portfolio of resources and a desire for economic development which will lead to independence. We must develop some of them responsibly, and here is a group which seems opposed to all.” Nevertheless, many Greenlanders also feel that the resource extraction is proceeding too quickly and carelessly, a few even say, quietly because of how sensitive dealing with Greenpeace is, that they would like to hear what Greenpeace has to say and perhaps work with them to make sure any development happens well. A complex issue which we did not get all the information on for sure.

I would have liked to hear what Greenpeace had to say in their presentations so that I knew more than hearsay about their stance but we did not have time. Instead, I’ve done some searching to see what they’ve been up to in Greenland via the press and checked out their web page for updates, and have been sadly disappointed. The headlines include activists dodging Danish military vessels to dangle below drilling platforms with climbing gear, stopping the drilling, and getting arrested, as well as plentiful rhetoric about the global addiction to oil, danger of oil spills etc. There is no discussion, however, about this local project… about the drilling techniques being employed, Greenland’s desires or rights to develop safely, or the pros and cons of this particular project. I’m actually a bit surprised to see that the people I spoke to on the street had, it appears, a fully informed view of Greenpeace’s activities and objectives in Greenland. Greepeace expresses no interest on their site in an informed discussion of pros and cons for development and are polarizing an issue in a country where legitimate discourse on resource development has a real chance. I only hope that there is some more thoughtful behind-the-scenes work going on, and that they will start focusing on that instead.

Meanwhile, my digression over, the crowd at our talks was bigger this time. Many folks from the Government, Institute of Natural Resources, and a collection of the friends we’d made over the past 10 days joined us. Gifford and Kaitlin discussed their work with firn (snow on its way to becoming solid glacial ice) and how they are trying to learn more about how the snow traps air during it many decade process of closing off bubbles – important to understanding the records of past climate which we decipher from the cores. I got to tell everyone about my favorite topic, sea ice, and explain why the dramatic changes we are seeing are important both to the people who directly experience them in the Arctic and also because sea ice loss can affect global climate. We all hope we gave them a decent show.

After the talks we decided to have a reception and going away party of sorts to see all of our new friends one last time before heading out. We expected perhaps 5 or 10 people to show up. Instead the place was packed with people that we were excited to hang out with and talk with into the wee hours of our last night in Nuuk. An amazing way to be sent off, and we really can’t thank our hosts at the University, in ICC, in the Self Government, at the Institute of Natural Resources, the Poppels, and everyone else we met for providing us with an amazing and very informative stay in Nuuk. Thank you all!

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One of the main objectives of our 10-day stay in Nuuk was to connect with people and institutions to build a better understanding of the social context of our scientific research. Basically, we wanted to hear what Greenlanders think foreign scientists should know about Greenland.

Thanks to a well cultivated academic partnership, the University of Greenland graciously hosted a 4-part lecture series for us. The series gave us a really rich way to explore social and cultural issues from a Greenlandic perspective. The  lecture topics were: “History of Greenland” taught by Professor Thorkild Kjaergaard in the History Department, “Living Conditions in the Arctic” presented by Professor Birger Poppel, an Economist, “Greenlandic Literature and Oral Tradition” by Professor Karen Langgard of the Language, Literature and Media Studies Department, and “Ghost Stories in Greenlandic Culture” by Professor Birgit Kleist Pedersen, also from the Language, Literature and Media Studies Department.

A clear take-home message, which tied these lectures together, is that Greenlandic, the indigenous language, is the language of power within Greenland. Greenlandic is an Inuit language that came to Greenland with the Inuit migration from Canada and it has a rich history of survival through the colonial era and into the present. Today, a majority of Greenlanders speak Greenlandic at home, and Greenlandic is the official language of the government. Coming from America, where English is so pervasive that we rarely think about the importance of language at all, I could not help but be struck by how closely Greenlandic is tied to personal identity and is seriously discussed in relation to national political and social issues, such as industrial development and immigration policy.  We covered a lot of ground during the lecture series and, even though we could only skim the surface of some very complicated topics, the new material has undoubtedly given us a richer understanding of how our research–and even just our presence in Greenland–fits into the bigger picture.

We are extremely grateful to the University of Greenland faculty members for putting together such an informative lecture series! We are particularly appreciative that it could happen despite the fact that our visit coincided with the summer break. The University facilities are brand new, spectacularly beautiful, and technologically top-notch (whoa, Smartboards!). It left me hoping that I will be able to return during the school year to meet more students and get a better sense of the student body.

While it might seem to make a lot of sense to partner with the local academic institution, the background of the series development is not entirely straight forward. The challenge that the program coordinators faced in negotiating the academic partnership stems from the absence of science programs at the University of Greenland. Why no science? The University is growing, but the main student body still only has 150 students, which is not enough to generate the student demand or resources required for the upfront and long-term investment in sciences. Lenore Grenoble and Ross Virginia, the IGERT faculty who have been cultivating Dartmouth’s relationship with the University, entered the discussions knowing that the expertise amongst the faculty does not directly overlap with our fields of research. As I understand it, Ross and Lenore simply ask the University faculty what they might be able to contribute that could inform our understanding of Greenland. The great advantage of the 4-part lecture series was that it took advantage of their expertise and did a lot to broaden our understanding of social-cultural dimensions of Greenland. We owe many thanks to the University of Greenland and Lenore and Ross for coordinating such a valuable opportunity–Thanks so much!

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