Feature: Greenland Thaw

Measuring Change

‘Thumbs Up’ for Travel to Kullorsuaq

by | 7.17.2014 at 5:46pm
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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/

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