Field work in Northern Greenland

Black & Bloom is a UK NERC funded project aiming to quantify the effects of algal growth on the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. One of the Ice Alive founders is among the four "postdoc" researchers on the project and has recently returned from exploring a new field site in the north western sector of the Greenland Ice Sheet. After two seasons working in the south west near Kangerlussuaq, the team decided to migrate north to investigate dark ice in an area where the melt seasons are shorter and the temperatures lower. The aim was to check that the processes they had recorded further south in 2016 and 2017 were also found further north.

 A fresh polar bear pelt drying in Upernavik (ph J Cook)

A fresh polar bear pelt drying in Upernavik (ph J Cook)

The team soon learned that there were additional challenges to working up here beyond the colder weather. Upernavik itself is on a small island in an archipelago near where the ice sheet flows and calves into the sea. While this produces spectacular icebergs, it also means access to the ice sheet is possible only by helicopter. The same helicopter serves local communities elsewhere in the archipelago with food, transport and other essential services. While we were in Upernavik, a huge iceberg floated into the harbour in nearby Inarsuit, threatening the town with the potential for a huge iceberg-induced tsunami. The maritime Arctic weather also played havoc with the flight schedules, and resupplying local communities (rightly) took priority over science charters.

 An iceberg near Upernavik (ph J Cook)

An iceberg near Upernavik (ph J Cook)

These factors prevented the team from leaving Upernavik for 3.5 weeks. "It seemed like we would never make it onto the ice" said Cook. However, the team finally got a weather window that coincided with helicopter and pilot availablity. With the difficulty of getting on to the ice weighing on their minds, the team had to consider the risk of similar difficulties getting back out. They repacked to ensure they had several weeks of emergency supplies to make sure they would be safe on the ice for several weeks.

 The edge of the ice sheet on the flight from Upernavik to camp (ph J Cook)

The edge of the ice sheet on the flight from Upernavik to camp (ph J Cook)

Once on the ice, the team quickly built a camp and started recording measurements quickly. The albedo measurements and paired drone flights went very smoothly, with refined methods developed over the past two seasons. However, glacier ice was only exposed for 1.5 days, and continuous snowfall kept it buried for the rest of the season.

 Air Greenland Bell 212 helicopter sling loading the team's equipment (ph J Cook)

Air Greenland Bell 212 helicopter sling loading the team's equipment (ph J Cook)

Overall it was an interesting site, and the team confirmed that the algal bloom they studied in the south west is also present in the northern part of the ice sheet, is composed of the same species and also makes the ice dark. They have sampled the mineral dusts too, to see how they compare with the more southern site.