First steps to Greenland

I am on my way to northern Greenland and just arrived badly time-lagged in Diez near Frankfurt from Philadelphia. Together with fellow scientists and technicians from Germany, Poland, and Canada, I hope to board Germany’s research icebreaker FS Polarstern early next week in Bremerhaven. Her departure has been delayed by two weeks for engine troubles that needed repairs beyond routine maintenance after she returned from Antarctica last month. She is the most heavily used science ice-breaker and spends more than 300 days at sea every year.

R/V Polarstern in Arctic ice 2008. [Credit: Alfred-Wegener-Institute,  Bremerhaven]

R/V Polarstern in Arctic ice 2008. [Credit: Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Bremerhaven]

We hope to deploy instruments to measure ocean currents that transport heat to melt Greenland’s glaciers, but more on that elsewhere. This work is facilitated mostly by Germany’s Alfred-Wegener-Institute and limited funds from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The mooring program on the continental shelf off Greenland near 79 degrees North latitude is a pilot experiment. It is one small part of a range of science missions in biological, chemical, and physical oceanography that will all take place within a more compressed schedule because the loss of almost 10 science days. Stuff happens.

For an experiment like this to take place, lots of stuff has to happen “right.” After sketching out a first science idea at a small meeting in rural Maine in May 2013, a formal research proposal and budget was written, submitted, reviewed, and approved with the added challenges of the U.S. government shut-down in October 2013. Then about 7000 pounds of equipment in British Columbia had to be prepared, packed, documented, and shipped via truck, ferry, train across Canada to Montreal to then be sailed via a huge container ship, the “Montreal Express,” to Hamburg and by truck under “custom’s seal” to Bremerhaven, Germany. If this sounds complicated, it was.

Luckily, I had an awesome Canadian broker, Julia Hooper of Internet Freight Services who handled all shipping and custom issues fast and professionally with the logistics and custom’s experts at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute. [Thank ye Nina, Klaus, and Mathias.]

Hapag Loyd's Montreal Express sailing between Montreal, Canada and Hamburg, Germany [Photo Credit:

Hapag Loyd’s Montreal Express sailing between Montreal, Canada and Hamburg, Germany [Photo Credit:

Oh, we also had an exceptionally cold winter along eastern North-America with heavy ice in the Strait Lawrence Waterway in Canada that wrecked havoc to Trans-Atlantic shipping schedules between Canadian and European ports. Our load of equipment was scheduled to arrive March 20 with ample time to meet the April 1 deadline, but it only got to Bremerhaven April 10. Two of our eleven crates arrived broken … and I do not yet know if any critical instrumentation was damaged. This is why I like to get to the ship as early as possible.

Further potential complications ahead: My mooring technician is now in Resolute, Nunavut pop. 229 as part of another Arctic experiment. He tries to deploy a mooring using a small plane that can land on sea ice. This work depends on good weather, ice, and superior pilot skills. The technician will have to leave saturday to join me in Germany monday, but this is tricky, because the small airport of Resolute has only one departure at 6:30 am six days per week. Bad weather often leads to delayed and canceled flights, I once was stuck in Resolute for a week in August because of excessive snow drifts in 1997. In 2011 the regular small plane crashed and killed all but three of the 15 passengers aboard. They included Marty Bergman, a friend and fellow sailor of Arctic waters.

Reading Arctic travel logs and scientific reports alike, it is all too easy to forget the large number of people and circumstances that make “stuff happen.” For me, it is nerve-wrecking as hundreds of things have to go right, but just one oversight, one wrong shackle, one forgotten anode, one wrong computer command, one missed connection … and all earlier efforts go down the drain. Please wish us luck, I know we can use it.

P.S.: Right now I am staying with my brother near Frankfurt typing these lines from this lovely garden he keeps —


5 responses to “First steps to Greenland

  1. My best wishes for you!! I know Greenland can be tough… Although very rewarding also. Lots of positive energy to overcome all difficult situations. You are gonna make it!! Cheers, Anna (a Greenland lover).

    • Thank you. A tidbit of good news from this morning: The work in the Canadian Arctic went well and people are on their way home for a day and on to Germany to join me here monday 😉

  2. Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    Thank you for sharing your experiences of doing this research. I will pray for you, your crew and all those working in these dangerous conditions that everything goes well and safely this summer. I wish the climate denial crowd could read things like this and realize how completely absurd their idea of scientists conspiring to create global warming to gain funding really is!

  3. Pingback: East Greenland Current Instabilities | Icy Seas

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