Feature: Greenland Thaw

Measuring Change

A ‘Bumper-Car’ Ride in the Ice Mélange

by | 7.29.2014 at 10:28am
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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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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