Category Archives: Wild Life

Polar Bears and Guns and Politics

Polar bears are endangered and need protection. They hunt and eat meat to survive. Seals are such meat as are scientists walking and working on the sea ice. I am planing an experiment in polar bear habitat. Do I need a gun to protect myself and my students working with me? About 10 people told me “YES” last week, all with experience working in polar bear habitat. Who am I to say no? Encounters between bears and people happen, but only rarely. None of the 10 people advising me to carry a shotgun or rifle ever discharged their weapon or had a bear encounter.

Polar bear as seen in Kennedy Channel on Aug.-12, 2012. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Labrador from aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Polar bear as seen in Kennedy Channel on Aug.-12, 2012. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Labrador from aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

In 3 month’s time I hope to do ~20 day trips from Thule Air Base near Pituffik, Greenland to explore the oceanography and acoustics of the local fjord covered by sea ice. The US National Science Foundation supports this work, maintains a dormitory where we sleep, and provides us with two snowmobiles. We will use these motorcycles on skies to reach science stations on the ice covering Wolstenholme Fjord. We will drill 10” holes through 3-5 feet of sea ice, set-up an electric winch connected to a small generator, and probe the ocean’s temperature, salinity, bottom depth, and ice thickness to prepare for a quiet acoustic communication system to move data under water from the outer fjord to the pier at Thule and the internet.

Thule-NSF2017

Leading this science effort, I will have to estimate and manage potential risks which include encounters with polar bears. I will have to decide how much money to allocate to each risk that then may not be available for other activities such as to support students, buy better sensors, or return in the summer. The first and almost always best response is to hire a local hunter who knows the area along with its bears, ice, and weather. There are about 600 people living in Qaanaaq about 100 miles to the north. Most of them are children and grand-children who were forcibly removed from Pituffik in 1952 when more than 13,000 Americans built a large air field during the height of the Cold War. The local llanguage spoken in remote Qaanaaq is the Inuktitut dialect of north-west Greenland, the first foreign language learnt in school is Danish, and English is not widely spoken, however, Qaanaaq has two non-Inuit villagers who originate from Denmark and Japan.

Relations between Qaanaaq and Thule Air Base are complex and sensitive with regard to politics and finances. One of many perspective is that of Kim Petersen who writes in Dissident Voice about “The Struggle against Colonialism and Imperialism in Kalaallit Nunaat.” Kalaallit Nunaat refers to Greenland in the local language. While the forced removal of native populations from Pituffik to Qaanaaq in 1952 and the crash of a nuclear armed B-52 bomber into Wolstenholme Fjord in 1968 are not in dispute, the political arguments presented seem to me rather narrow, one-dimensional, and rooted in a tired ideological Left-Wing mode of conspiracy-thinking. Does this perspective represent the community of Qaanaaq? Perhaps I need to ask someone who may know:

Working on the sea ice off northern Greenland [Photo credit, Steffen Olsen]

Working on the sea ice off northern Greenland [Photo credit, Steffen Olsen]

It is not straight-forward to bring a gun to Greenland as it requires a large amount of paper work. Another layer of regulations relates to bringing a gun to an US military installation. Shooting a polar bear is a burocratic and political nightmare, because strict quotas exist for the “taking” of polar bears. International complications include Canada, because the quotas are assigned to Canadian and Greenlandic hunters from the same bear population. It is a sensitive topic in many dimensions, a riddle for which I have no solution.

How much time do I spent to prepare for an unlikely event such as a fatal polar bear encounter? Could I not argue with ethics that were instilled into me when hiking in the back-country of Denali National Park (no guns there). Park rangers then told me that I enter bear habitat and should do so respectfully with minimal impact. They gave me useful pointers on how to lower contact and I saw no bears hiking for 4 days alone without a gun, but grizzlies eat berries while polar bears do not.

So, should I carry a gun, if I am not ready to kill a bear while working in bear country? I can accept the consequences of injury and death for myself, however, I cannot do so for those who are with me. Perhaps this then is a path to a solution: Discuss this with all who will be with me on the ice.

Preparing for Petermann One Day At a Time

Glaciers, Greenland, Adventure, Expedition, Ice, Polar Bears, Narwhales, oh the fun to go to Greenland.

Swedish icebreaker I/B Oden 22 July 2015 on its way to Thule. [Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/SjoV_isbrytning]

Swedish icebreaker I/B Oden 22 July 2015 on its way to Thule. [Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/SjoV_isbrytning%5D


This romantic notion is false and pretty pictures always lie. To prove my point, I just list what one scientist does 4 days before shipping out to Greenland for 5 weeks. [My wife left last week to visit our grown son in California. She knows the drill, focus, and strain that does not make good company. We have gone through such 4-8 weeks of separation many times during our 20+ years of marriage; her leaving a week before I do works rather well for us]:

04:45 Wake up
05:00 Check e-mail on iPhone in bed
05:05 Read Twitter feed: Canadian research ship diverted to break ice in Hudson Bay
05:10 Check references to outreach-related news
05:15 Read Wilson Quarterly article “The Race to the Arctic” on Arctic developments with global policy impacts
05:30 Shower and Dress
05:45 Check Iridium data collection to Oden, fix minor problem
06:00 Check Hans Island weather, winds still from the north at 10 kts
06:15 Clean up mess cat made, make coffee
06:30 Check latest satellite imagery on Nares Strait, beautiful Arctic lead (upwelling) and sediment plumes from streams and glaciers
07:00 Bicycling to work
07:15 Brief hallway meeting with new grant specialist
07:30 Checking news on Arctic Sea Ice Forums
07:35 Downloading and reading peer-reviewed papers for proposal writing
08:00 Distracted by Tamino’s post about Five signs of denial regarding climate change
08:00 NSF Proposal writing
08:30 Distracted, responding to international e-mails
09:00 Passing links and photos for future press release

My littered office with 2 (of 10) drums of cable to connect ocean sensors through 300 m thick ice to Iridium satellite phone at the surface.

My littered office with 2 (of 10) drums of cable to connect ocean sensors through 300 m thick ice to Iridium satellite phone at the surface.

I am falling behind and feel the tension to get this NSF proposal finished by saturday. NSF stands for National Science Foundation, the proposal is asking for $500,000 to conduct a 3-year experiment with German and Norwegian scientists in the summers of 2016 and 2017. If successful, it will support two graduate students full time for two (MS) and three (PhD) years as well as two technicians for five months total. Peer-review of these proposals is brutal with perhaps a 1:7 success rate on average.

09:15 NSF proposal writing
09:40 Respond to former collaborator on an underwater acoustic communication project
09:45 Back to NSF proposal writing
10:00 Studying Sutherland and Cenedese (2009) on dynamics of the East Greenland Current interacting with canyons as explored by laboratory study
10:30 Converting Latex files to .pdf for uploads to NSF server
11:00 Read and edit UDel Press Release
11:15 Giving university administrators full access to current version of NSF proposal after uploading files to NSF servers
11:20 Heading to coffee shop for short bicycle break
12:00 UNAVCO gear arrived at office
12:05 Re-design the mechanics of the surface mount of the automated weather station to be deployed on Petermann Glacier

UNAVCO GPS systems for deployment on Petermann Gletscher.

12:45 Checking ice and weather in Nares Strait, Arctic Forecast
13:00 Back to proposal, writing/thinking about buoyant coastal currents interacting with canyons
16:00 Meet with PhD student on physics of GPS
16:15 Back to proposal writing
17:30 Graphical layout of proposal
18:15 Bicycle to Main Street for steak + margarita dinner
19:30 Home; set-up overdue MODIS processing
19:45 Edit this list, add links, and photos
19:55 Check Nares Strait weather and DMI Greenland ice
20:15 Daily Iridium data download from Oden works (equipment testing)


20:30 Posting this post
20:45 Editing and updating this post
21:00 Finished processing and posting on my web serverNares Strait MODIS imagery for the week

Greenland Glacier Ocean Warming

The Swedish icebreaker Oden will visit Petermann Fjord in northern Greenland in 6 months time. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a large geophysical and geological experiment after excruciating peer-review over a 4-year period. The experiment shall reveal climate histories from sediment cores, geomagnetics, and both bottom and sub-bottom sonar profiling. Besides this main mission Oden also supports several smaller auxiliary projects some of which are funded by NSF while others are not. It will be a fine collaboration between Swedish and American scientists working together in perhaps one of the most difficult to reach and beautiful places on earth.

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

I will aboard the ship to deploy sensors some of which exist and are funded while others are neither. Let me outline first the funded part and then part where you the reader and I can perhaps join forces. First, we will test first elements of an underwater acoustic communication system. Think cell-phones, except the phone towers are under water where they are called modes. The modems talk to each other by sending sound back and forth the same way that whales do talk to each other.

Here is a narwhals sound

that you can use as a ringtone, credit goes to Voices of the Sea web-site at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. These whales visit Petermann Fjord in summer and we saw many of them frolicking in August of 2012 when I visited the area with the Canadian Coast Guard whom I credit for these photos:

Our man-made sound is very quiet, but because it is quiet, it only moves 3-10 km through the water. To increase our range, we plan to install several quiet sound sources that whisper from one water-phone (=hydrophone) to the next. The goal is to get data from ocean sensors moved along this whispering system of underwater “cell phones” to reach a listening station that we plan to install at the edge of Petermann Gletscher’s floating ice shelf. The ice is 200 meters or 600 feet thick and it is not trivial to drill through that much ice, but it can be done, and the British Antarctic Survey is aboard with a team of experts to do so to get sediment cores from the bottom below the ice:

Makinson1993-Fig04

Today I ordered a first cable that will connect the underwater modem hanging under the 200-m thick ice to the surface where a fancy computer connects it to the internet via to a satellite phone. All data calls that the underwater listening station receives will move up the cable to the glacier surface and on to us all via the internet. This challenging engineering project is funded, but I like to use the same hole, computer, and satellite link to get additional ocean and air data.

Additional stations will be drilled through the ice-shelf farther inland to reach the ocean also. Here we also need cables and instruments that tells us how the glacier is melted by the ocean at different location along its 50 km long floating ice shelf. The incremental costs are small relative to the cost of getting a ship and helicopters there, but NSF cannot easily fund small projects rapidly. It takes a long time to pass scientific peer review. This is where you, my dear reader come in: I need your help to raise $10,000 to add science and observations to an engineering feasibility study that is the underwater whispering sound system.

The motivation and details are described with videos, pictures, laboratory notes, plots, ideas, as well as some short, quirky, yet technically correct descriptions at the crowd-funding site

https://experiment.com/projects/ocean-warming-under-a-greenland-glacier.

I created and launched it today, it will be up for 30 more days. If you can and if you like the science, work, and fun that I describe on these pages, please consider making a small donation. You have the power to make this happen and I will share all data both from below and above the ocean and glacier surface with you.

As a physicist, gardener, teacher, writer, traveler, ping-pong player, and geocacher I am naturally curious about both our natural and social world. I love experiments and to me the crowd-funding at Experiment.com is a most enjoying experiment to connect to people in a new way. Full disclosure, however, this company takes 8% of all funds generated to supports its wonderful software and staff. Perhaps you like to join this experiment by spreading the word and, if you can afford it, help pay for some of the technology needed to bring Greenland and its mysteries to everyone who wants to connect to it.

Petermann Ice Island visited by Vagabond

An ice-cube with a mass of 18 giga tons left Petermann Gletscher in the summer of 2012 and thus became PII-2012 for Petermann Ice Island 2012. The CCGS Henry Larsen visited and surveyed the waters, bottom, and ice of the fjord that same year. Since then PII-2012 traveled 300 km southward, grounded in shallow water, but continued its voyage south a month or so again. Last thursday it was visited by a 47′ sail boat called “Vagabond.” I just discovered the report by its Master Eric Brossier, Continue reading

Travels by Mind to the Glaciers and Oceans off North-East Greenland

Our minds travel easier than the body. My eyes have never seen East Greenland, but I moved across its white Continue reading