Archive for the ‘ 2012 ’ Category

Kangerlussuaq, Beyond Science and the Military

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Kangerlussuaq seal

After our visit to the Kangerlussuaq museum, we began wondering about the dynamics of the town after the American military airbase was turned over to the Greenlandic government in 1992. On Wednesday, we were able to find out about this and more when we had the fortunate opportunity to interview the mayor and administrator of Kangerlussuaq. The Service Center (or city hall) is located in a nondescript blue and white building directly across from the KISS building. There we met Mayor Albrecht Kreutzmann & Administrator Minanngauq “Mina” Zeeb. Mina moved to Kangerlussuaq in 1979 as an employee with Air Greenland, so she experienced the town both during and after American military occupation. Mayor Kreutzmann moved to Kangerlussuaq in 2008 to begin his 4-year, 1st term as mayor and plans to run for re-election.

Kangerlussuaq service center

Kangerlussuaq is a settlement in the Qeqqata municipality. The administrative center is the town Sisimiut.

Tony w/ Mayor Kreutzmann & Ms. Zeeb

Mayor Kreutzmann is a member of the Forward (Greenlandic: Siumut) party, a social-democratic political party. He is also very environmentally minded. He discussed with us his hopes for keeping the community clean and finding ways to turn waste in to energy. A few of his main goals for the settlement are a focus on senior housing because many in town are aging and don’t want to leave Kangerlussuaq, improving the quality of life for youth, and forming a more effective working-economic relationship with the tourist industry. Ms. Zeeb is responsible for the settlement’s five staff members, manages the town budget and also serves as the administrative assistant to the settlement board (town council).

During our interview we also discussed the operations of the town’s infrastructure. Of interest was the maintenance of the road to the ice sheet; the mayor implied maintenance was an unofficial joint effort, however the tourist industry uses the road daily. Other infrastructure discussed was the long awaited road to Sisimiut. This remains a priority for the Greenland government, but cost remains an issue. A part of the government’s income comes from a 43% income tax rate, paid to Sisimiut, not Kangerlussuaq. In August, politicians from around the Qeqqata municipality meet in Sisimiut to discuss their goals and priorities. From this meeting budgets for the towns and settlements are decided.

History and Culture

Painting of hunting settlement at Lake Ferguson

When you arrive at Kangerlussuaq, tour the town, and see the area the only history is on the military and airlines that have made Kangerlussuaq well known. However, after speaking with Mayor Kreutzmann and Ms. Zeeb, we learned that this area was and still is a seasonal hunting spot for many Inuit. The hunting season was known to start when the harbor would fill-up with visiting hunters from various villages and settlements near Kangerlussuaq. There have been stories depicting over 70 boats and kayaks arriving to start the hunting season. This is true today; however, the transportation methods have changed as some now arrive by plane while some still show up in at the harbor.

Vicky w/ Mayor Kreutzmann & Ms. Zeeb

This is one reason the residents are avid on setting up a cultural museum in Kangerlussuaq. Mayor Kreutzmann and Ms. Zeeb informed us of a rising concern by the local community to communicate their history through a cultural museum.

Mayor Kreutzmann and Ms. Zeeb, informed us of the rising number of people who are continuing to stay in Kangerlussuaq. These residents are aging and increasing the need for facilities that are adequate to care for elders. Alberecht is currently working on a senior center.

Climate Change
The one thing that is concerning to Mayor Kreutzmann, and Ms. Zeeb, and the community of Kangerlussuaq is climate change. They informed us of the changes they have seen in and around Kangerlussuaq and connect it to climate change. The community of Kangerlussuaq is concerned and supportive of the work happening at the KISS Station. However, there is a lack of communication between the researchers and staff at KISS and the community or government of Kangerlussuaq. This is something that Mayor Kreutzmann and Ms. Zeeb expressed concern over and are very enthusiastic to see this change. The director of KISS, Kathy Young, has expressed positive interest in working and communicating more with the community of Kangerlussuaq and Mayor Kreutzmann and Ms. Zeeb. Hopefully, this is the start of a great relationship that will help share information concerning issues such as climate change between the community people and researchers in Greenland.

Ms. Zeeb and Ms. Young chat at C-CHANGE Poster Session

The Importance of the Kangerlussuaq Forest

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Even though it is easy to think of agriculture as primarily an economic activity, it is other things also. Particularly, it can be an important cultural identifier. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond identifies farming as an important cultural identity of the Norse Greenlandic settlers of the medieval period. In his interpretation, their cultural attachment to farming proved to be both a strength, yet also an important component of their eventual decline. A European, farming-based identity provided a reservoir of cultural strength that Norse Greenlanders could draw upon as they made their livings in one of the harshest environments then inhabited by Europeans. Ultimately, however, the cultural attachment to agriculture helped bring about the Norse Greenlanders’ demise. Their devotion to farming proved maladaptive in the worsening climates of the Little Ice Age, yet the Greenlandic Norse insisted upon maintaining an agricultural lifestyle to the end rather than adopting a different lifestyle that might have aided their survival.

Spruce and pine trees growing near Kangerlussuaq

Spruce and pine trees, planted to provide a supply of Christmas trees to the region.

We have not seen anything that would really count as agriculture here in Kangerlussuaq, but nonetheless, there is an interesting instance of plants being grown for their cultural significance. Just east of town, on the road to the glacier, we have observed small groves of spruce and pine trees, struggling against the limitations of the Arctic climate. These trees, we learned, were planted to provide Kangerlussuaq with a local supply of Christmas trees. Although it is possible that somebody is making money on this venture, the “Kangerlussuaq Forest” seems to carry more cultural than economic significance. Just as the Greenlandic Norse clung stubbornly to their animal husbandry because it was how they identified themselves, someone in modern Kangerlussuaq has found the Christmas tree of great enough cultural importance to grow a local supply, even in a region well above the natural northern tree line. Like the Norse, agriculture, or at least plant cultivation, is being pushed northward not just for its economic significance, but also for its cultural meaning.

Science in the Arctic

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

The range of Arctic research that is being supported by Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) this season is notable.

Here is a small sample:

• Monitoring ice sheet dynamics – ablation, accumulation variability & surface energy balance
• Quantifying glacier-fjord-ocean interactions
• Characterizing the microbial communities below the Greenland ice sheet
• Continuous monitoring of atmospheric methane and non-methane hydrocarbons
• Investigating the evolution, form and spatial variability of the Greenland ice sheet hydrology
• Monitoring plant phenology and reindeer and muskox populations
• Greenland sexual health project
• Examining ice crystal structure from sonic velocity profiles
• Large scale seismic refraction analysis
• Monitoring river plumes as indicators of ice sheet melting
• Surveying sky clarity and atmospheric stability
• Analysis of carbon dynamics in the high Arctic
• Observing the propagation of thinning from two rapidly changing outlet glaciers
• Collecting data on short-term ice sheet velocity changes
• Measuring processes which influence the isotopic composition of snow

Furthermore, the majority of these projects provide good examples of collaborative research.

We have had the opportunity to learn about some of these studies in more detail. For example, Bruce Douglas (Indiana University) and Mikki Osterloo (Univ. of Colorado) kindly gave us a field-demonstration of their research, which involves documenting the density and orientation of fractures near the ice sheet as these fractures could provide refugia for microorganisms in sub-permafrost environments.

Additionally, post-doc Karen Cameron and graduate student Kyla Choquette gave a presentation regarding their attempts to characterize the microbial communities below the Greenland ice sheet. They are collecting samples of sub-glacial meltwater in order to assess the influence of sub-glacial lithology and the contribution of microbes to sub-glacial weathering.

Local jökulhlaup

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

On 31 August 2007, a jökulhlaup (glacial outburst flood) was observed when a lake, dammed by ice from the Russell Glacier, suddenly burst and rapidly drained into the Watson River. The lake was approximately 25 m deep and released around 29,000,000 cubic meters of water with a maximum discharge of 540 cubic meters/second (Mernild et al., 2008). We were able to visit this site where the former elevation of the lake is still discernible.

Currently, the outflow is blocked again and the lake filling meaning that a similar event is likely in the future. Jökulhlaup’s typically originate from this area once every 8-10 years, with the last documented event before 2007 occurring in 1987 (Mernild et al., 2008). However, climatic warming is likely to affect the magnitude and frequency of these events in the future.

It is Apparent

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In Greenland, we have now observed many ecological and climate change phenomena that may only be read about in Kansas.  We not only notice the permanent retreat of the Greenland Ice Sheet that has happened since the last KU IGERT C-CHANGE group visited 2 years ago, but we are also able to see how community composition changes over time.  We can see change over time in biological communities since areas closest to the ice sheet recently became ice-free and areas further from the ice sheet have been ice-free for a longer amount of time.  As land becomes ice-free, biological communities become active and soil becomes a major biogeochemical player in the game of ecological succession.

As glaciers retreat they leave behind gravel deposits called moraines.  Younger moraines are populated with bacteria, fungi, and simple autotrophs.  As moraines become older, they become populated with lichens that both photosynthesize and fix nitrogen while breaking down moraines into smaller and smaller gravel.  As these areas are nitrogen limited (pretty much absent), plants that are able to fix nitrogen move in such as Alder trees.  Nitrogen fixation by these plants and the slow respiration of dead plant tissues improves soil conditions.  Total nitrogen increases in these soils.  As soil conditions further improve, other plant species that are competitively superior move in.  This is noticeable in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland by the large areas dominated by dwarf birch and gray-leaf willow.

As vegetation grows, we are interested in how much CO2 is taken up by this vegetation?  What are transpiration rates and how much water vapor is released to the atmosphere?  What are the rates of decomposition by the microbial community; how much CO2 is released from respiration?  How much N2O is being released by denitrifiers?  And how do all these processes contribute to global greenhouse gas concentrations and subsequently, climate change?

Transition from rocky moraine (bottom right) to bunch grasses (left)

Transition from bunch grasses (foreground) to woody encroachment (background)

A transition to mostly woody species like dwarf birch and gray-leaf willow

Dwarf birch with last years leaves

Older moraines are broken down by lichens

Gray-leaf willow

Trashing the Arctic: Destructive Impacts of Discovery & Tourism

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Greenland is a beautiful land of remarkable views, incredible creatures, and we can’t forget ICE!!! My first days here I was blown away by the pristine, seemingly untouched nature of the land as we explored the ice sheet, tundra, and all else Greenland had to offer. However, reality hit me the night our group camped out. Our campsite came complete with multiple port-a-johns and picnic tables. It was as if the scales fell from my eyes, because from that point on I could not help but notice the destruction of human discovery of this treasure and the booming tourism industry built around it. As evidence, below is a photo collection of everything from cigarette butts and coke bottles to oil sheen covered ruts created by constant tour bus traffic transporting tourists across the tundra to beautiful waterfall views. Kudos to several of my colleagues who picked up trash as they passed it.

Tour Bus

Tundra ruts from vehicular traffic

Likin’ Lichens

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Over the past 5 days, we have been lucky to see many regions around Kangerlussuaq and the ice sheet. In these areas, we have seen a variety of landscapes and their associated plant and animal communities. On one of our recent trips, we took a little extra time to take a closer look at biological and ecological succession following glacial retreat. Dr. Sharon Billings was kind enough to give us some informal lectures on primary and secondary succession at different areas away from the ice sheet (see photo below).

Informal lecture about succession

Although we stopped at various areas, I was most intrigued by our discussion of primary succession. While I have had lectures in the past on succession, it was nice to be in the field and getting some specific information about the biological communities we were directly observing. In areas newly devoid of cover due to glacial retreat, the ground lacks vegetation and often soil. In these areas, in particular where we were investigating, lichens (mutualistism of a fungus and a photosynthetic microorganism) are often the first to colonize. In systems that have started to develop, lichens can be found on rocks and other substrates (see photo below).

Rocks covered in lichens (and an excited raven)

As early colonizers, lichens pave the way for other organisms through many processes, including: fixing nitrogen, energy production through photosynthesis, decreasing surface albedo (subsequently causing warming of the proximal areas), breaking down rock material by exuding acids, and producing the beginning of a soil layer as lichens die and decay. These processes provide good conditions for secondary succession, creating a more livable environment for most plants, from what began as a desolate landscape. Below are some examples of the variety and beauty of lichens we have seen in areas around Kangerlussuaq thus far.

A variety of lichens seen near Kangerlussuaq

What IGERT Means to Me

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Going to Greenland for the IGERT C-CHANGE course has given me “once in a life time” opportunities. Being able to drive around Greenland has been a great experience, which I thought, I would never get to have. Now, I am able to say I have driven in the Arctic to a Glacier.

Me driving a Land Cruiser. Photo courtesy Tony Reames

The other meaningful experience has been the exposer and chance to interact with arctic researches and learn about their work. While we have been staying at the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support facility, we had a chance to go out and see the work of Dr. Mikki Osterloo and Dr. Bruce Douglas who are conducting ground work to test a drill bound for Mars in a future NASA mission.  We were able to see and help with their fieldwork and then see a presentation given from them at KISS about the whole project.  It was just great to actually see what other researches are doing and have “hands on experience” to their field site and equipment.

Brunton Compass used by Dr. Mikki Osterloo and Dr. Bruce Douglas to conduct field work.

Another experience happened when we were given a lecture near Russell Glacier, by one of the IGERT co-instructors of the course, Sharron Billing.  It was great to have a recap of the lessons she covered during the semester course and get to see the complexity of the dwarf birch shrubs and arctic ecosystem that are influenced by the glacial retreat; made the connections between the two clear.

Sharon Bilings lecturing near Russell Glacier.

The last experience that happened that will stick with me forever was the snowflakes we saw while hiking near Russell Glacier.  I was amazed at how clear and beautiful this snowflake was and had never seen a snowflake like this.  That is what IGERT means to me…having exposure and experiences that I would other wise not have an opportunity to have.

Greenland Snowflake

Anyone Hungry for Some Sea Tomatoes?

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Today we visited two researchers at their study site where the very odd sea tomatoes grow in abundance.  Lauren Culler, a doctoral student at Dartmouth, and Danny O’Donnell, a doctoral student at Michigan State, are both spending some time away from their main research projects to satiate their scientific curiosity and study the mysterious sea tomatoes.

It’s a dried apricot, no it’s a prune, no it’s a sea tomato!

The story starts several years ago when Lauren and other Dartmouth students heard from locals that sea tomatoes existed in lakes surrounding Kangerlussuaq.  It seemed too strange to be true – tomatoes growing in lakes?  However, during field work several summers ago they confirmed that sea tomatoes do indeed exist in Greenland, especially in a particular lake.  These are quite strange life forms – can anyone take a guess what it is?

Initial guesses might include some form of vegetable or fruit, but it is cyanobacteria, a form of algae!  This lake is full of sea tomatoes, which sparked Lauren and Danny to wonder why they are in such abundance in this lake.  During their talk today they shared many research questions related to the sea tomatoes from why the sea tomatoes are there, to what effect they have on the surrounding ecosystem.  As lakes are local sources of freshwater and some locals claim to eat sea tomatoes, Lauren and Danny would also like to know if this type of cyanobacteria, Nostoc pruniforme, produces any toxins that may contaminate the water or make the tomatoes dangerous to eat.

Sea Tomato Cross Section: they are very squishy and gelatinous with an outer skin.

Currently, Lauren and Danny are busy taking water quality measurements and samples, and figuring out how they can transport these tomatoes back to the U.S. so that they can properly analyze them in the lab.  They have so many research questions to explore and they need a sufficient supply of these tomatoes to satisfy all the prodding, probing and measuring that is necessary to conduct a rigorous scientific study.

I found the sea tomatoes very exciting – there are so many unanswered questions about these tomatoes, and so little research has been done.  There is so much to discover!

For more information see the Dartmouth IGERT blog posts:

Lauren Culler and Danny O'Donnell sharing their knowledge of the sea tomatoes

Good luck Lauren and Danny with your research!  Looking forward to reading about your discoveries some day soon!

Discovering Trends in Greenland

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Visiting a new place often means experiencing new faces, places, sights, sounds, styles and trends.  In fact, what I love about travelling is that it is a chance to step outside of my own self-constructed sphere of existence.  I become more aware of differences and similarities in cultures, and I relish the realization of an emerging trend or pattern.  Yet an even greater satisfaction is understanding meaning behind these patterns.

One of the first things I noticed about Greenlandic fashion was the cuffs that women were wearing around their wrists.  These are sold in gift shops and in the local convenience store here in Kangerlussuaq.  Some are made of thick wool with animal fur or leather for decoration.  Some are knitted and decorated with beads.

Knitted cuffs for sale in the airport gift shop - these are made of Musk Ox wool and are very pricey

Another variety of the knitted cuffs with beaded designs

After noticing this trend, I was curious if there was a deeper meaning behind them.  So after talking with a student at the University of Greenland for quite some time, I decided to ask her about her beautiful woven cuffs around her wrists.  She said that they are a part of the traditional women’s dress in Greenland.  The ones she was wearing were made of Musk Ox wool, which she said had therapeutic properties and could ease sore muscles and body pain.  Her cuffs also had a design of the Ulu or “the women’s knife”.  The ulu is traditionally used by women to skin animals and in the past was a multi-use tool.  The Ulu is also a common symbol in Greenland.  Miniature uluit can be seen in gift shops on necklaces and as souvenirs.  I noticed this beautiful ulu hanging in the Inuit Circumpolar Council office where we had our meeting in Nuuk.

The Ulu or "women's knife" from the ICC Office

I would like to know more about the Ulu and the deeper meaning it holds for Inuit and Greenlandic culture.

Sometimes the trends I notice while travelling push me to change something about myself.  On this trip coveting the beautiful knitted cuffs gave me enough motivation to ask a fellow IGERT trainee about knitting.  Ashley Zung is an avid knitter and on this trip she has dressed in quite impressive hats and sweaters that she knitted herself!  We discussed the cuffs and I mentioned that I had always wanted to knit.  As we were preparing our bags to spend a night camping on the tundra Ashley suggested that during the time camping I could learn to knit.  With excitement, we both headed over to the local convenience store – which sells knitting wool and needles – and I picked out a lovely mauve wool yarn to begin my first knitting project.

As it began to snow around 10pm and we all took shelter from the cold in our tents – Ashley taught me the knit stitch.

Our (somewhat) warm and cozy tents before the snow started blowing

The knitting progress so far...