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Two young scientists share their experiences doing fieldwork in remote Northeast Greenland, check out their blog

A journey to the ice sheet

As a biogeochemist, I get to study how carbon moves between the atmosphere, the ocean, and the plant and animal life living within it. I simultaneously get to study the big picture on how these spheres connect and affect each other while zooming in on carbon molecules that I cannot see. One big focus of our research is the impact of “freshening”––salty ocean water is actually getting diluted by the melting cryosphere making the Arctic Ocean more brackish! In Greenland fjords, one of the major sources of freshwater is the Greenland Ice Sheet. However, often times when we measure carbon within the ocean, we are at least one step removed. We characterize how much freshwater influence there is by using salinity and oxygen isotopes, which come to me as numbers of atoms, things we cannot see. 

However, the other day, I could finally see up close the source of the freshwater that I have been studying so closely. We sailed into Tyroler fjord and picked up two researchers from Zackenberg research station on the way. They needed a lift to go out and collect a muskox tracking collar. Sometimes in the interest of time, when we go far away (eg. deep into Tyroler fjord) we need to split up, so we can get the most of the trip. While the muskox researchers did their thing, Mie and Carl sampled a marine station, while Mikael, Christian and I hiked to the ice sheet. 

The goal of the day was to try to sample subglacial discharge – meltwater that comes out from underneath the glacier. This means that we tried to hike to the glacier itself to get access to water as it flowed out from beneath the ice. We weren’t able to hike along the river up to the glacier, so we had to summit a mountain to get access to the glacial valley from the side where the terrain was safe to traverse. 

We started off our journey uphill but soon had to stop to shed some clothing layers. When it is a sunny, still day without wind, it can get surprisingly warm up here in the high north. We started the hike by sharing the load, but as my companions slowed down a bit, I offered to carry a bit more. By the time we reached the top I had acquired the rifle and an extra drone case in addition to my bag. No matter. I was so eager to finally put a face on all of those numbers I’d been staring at the past year, that I was happy to keep us moving. As we crested the hill, we looked out upon the unnamed glacier coming down from the Greenland Ice sheet. What a sight to behold. We stopped here for lunch before continuing down into the valley. 

When we got down to the glacier, we found a perfect sampling spot to measure dissolved gasses. The river was coming directly out from beneath the glacier, and we were within 20m of its entrance into the sunlit world. After getting our work done, we took a few minutes to marvel at where we were. How few people get a chance to see this corner of the world. It truly was a fantastic “day at the office.”