State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School



We are finally back from Greenland, bringing to a close the data collection piece of the spring 2010 Ice Bridge campaign. During my month-long piece in this campaign our time was split between two West Greenland base -camps, Kangerlussuaq and Thule (also known as Qaanaaq). Thule, at the northern end of Greenland, is the farthest north I have ever been. It is a place where one can step out the door and actually see sea ice – truly amazing! During the early spring part of the campaign the scientists on board the DC 8 were actually able to walk on the sea ice, however the seasons are changing and by mid May when we arrived there in the P3 the sea ice was breaking up, and most of the snow had melted. These images of the Dundas Mountain in Thule, captured earlier in the campaign by Jim Cochran’s photograph (top), and again by me in May (bottom), tell the story. The snow had melted exposing the rock, dust and gravel of the strange looking mountain.

Dundas Mountain in Thule March 2010
Dundas Mountain in Thule March 2010 (photo Jim Cochran)
Dundas Mountain in Thule May 2010
Dundas Mountain in Thule May 2010 (photo Indrani Das)

From the windows of the lounge of the inn where we stayed, I could see stranded icebergs lodged in the sea ice. From this perch one can sometimes see polar bears – if lucky! While on board the P3 flying over sea ice, I kept a close watch on the sea ice to spot a polar bear. While I did not get to see any, I did manage to spot the breathing holes in sea ice made by the seals. Both the seals and the polar bears rely heavily on the sea ice for specific habitat needs that are key in their life cycle. Sea ice is crucial to their reproduction, hunting and transit so changes in overall cover and thickness are a real concern. Just as glaciers and icesheets are changing in recent years, sea ice is also influenced by climate changes. Over the past 30 years, scientists have observed an approximate 8% loss in arctic sea ice area, and a significant loss of multiyear ice resulting in an overall thinning of the sea ice cover. With this decline in the natural habitat of Arctic seals and polar bears these species are threatened, and the polar bears in particular may face extinction. During the entire IceBridge campaign, there have been a series of flights to monitor the changes in sea ice as we hope to better understand the changes occurring at the poles.

Sea ice in May 2010
Sea ice in May 2010 (photo Indrani Das)

Although we battled weather with snow, rain with wind speeds in excess of 35 knots, and had to navigate around the volcanic ash, we did manage to complete all of our high priority flights. This aggressive flight schedule was far from effortless, and at the end of the trip there was big sigh of relief among the crew and science team members (below).

Team Operation Ice Bridge (photo Kathryn Hansen, NASA)
Team Operation Ice Bridge (photo Kathryn Hansen, NASA)

In retrospect, the whole experience was extremely rewarding. This was my first trip to Greenland and I have enjoyed every moment of it. The team members were extremely knowledgeable in their field and very cooperative and helpful. The down days were fun when we took time off to explore the land on foot. The locals we came across were friendly, helpful, and as technology savvy as the rest of the world with impeccable manners and were extremely helpful. Football (soccer), it seemed, was a craze among the Greenlanders as were colorful houses, trendy phones and fashionable dresses. Their cheery disposition is evident in the youth who were thrilled to meet us all and pose for photos!

Greenland youth smiling for his photo (credit Indrani Das)
Greenland youth smiling for his photo (credit Indrani Das)

I thank all the scientists and crew members on this mission, the local support groups at Kangerlussuaq and Thule and everybody back home at Lamont who have helped to make this trip a memorable experience for me.

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