State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Sphinx of Greenland

Geikie’s pyramid carved basalts (photo M. Turrin)

I had been warned of Geikie.  “If they fly to Geikie get on that flight” I had been told, but nothing more. At the science briefing last night I knew it was a possibility, but daily science missions are not decided in the confines of a meeting room. Missions are decided by weather, and its weather that drives the transit today forcing us up over the clouds. A snowy air mass has descended upon Kangarlussuaq extending back over the icecap, leaving an opened window over the Geikie Peninsula.

The transit will be high putting many of the instruments out of their range.  The Laser altimeter, visual camera and gravity all become a casualty at higher elevation, yet the magnetics and radar continue to collect data during the commute. But the story today is not in the transit, it is in the small jut of rugged cut coastline in Southeast Greenland called the Geikie Peninsula. An elongated ice plateau at more than 6500 ft. of elevation, Geikie is the northern end of a section of steep flood basalts that flowed out like the upward sweep of a hook.

Geikie is both a challenging target, and a bit of an enigma to the science team.  Geikie is a hard area to study because of its location.  It is the furthest target from any air bases in Greenland and in Iceland, and it is located just at the lip of the weather systems moving in from the Icelandic Low. A notorious herald of foul weather, the Icelandic Low dominates this section of the Southeast Greenland coastline.  Pulling warm water from the oceans into the atmosphere between the two ice blocks of Iceland and Greenland, the Icelandic Low contributes to nearly constant bad flight weather in this part of Greenland. Along with being a difficult target the small glaciers we will fly today are surging or dynamic glaciers. Surging glaciers are difficult to fully understand and account for in models. We hope to collect data that will help define the bed beneath the ice in these dynamic glaciers. In order to do this we will fly right down the trunks of eight of Geikie’s glaciers.

Toe like cliffs lined the ice like those of a sphinx standing guard (photo M. Turrin)

When the peaks of Geikie appeared from the snow I was captivated. Line after line, row after row pyramid like peaks rose with a certain regal proudness through the ice sheet.  Chiseled points with finely leveled layers stood 1500 ft. and higher through the ice, surrounding the plane, while below us the radar showed the ice thickness to be 1.5 miles.  These are towering features.  Buried millions of years ago by the ice sheet this truly must be Greenland’s hidden treasure.  Sheared edges formed perfect pyramids where competing ice flows had crossed, working in opposition to carve away the rock.  Regal gateways of perfectly opposing pedestals of rock showed the promise of rock formation after rock formation through the opening. Large crouching shapes appeared trailing down to rounded blocks of rock emerging like the toes of an Egyptian sphinx standing guard over this magnificent treasure for all these years.

A rocky gateway forms an entry to endless rows of rocky points. (Photo M. Turrin)

We collect measurement after measurement, image after image as we soared by the guardians of Greenland. While we collected almost two terabytes of data we did not disturb their slumber. We left Geikie as we found it, frozen, vast and arresting. If they fly to Geikie, get on that flight!

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12 years ago

Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful – one for the bucket list.

All the best
Bayne A M Geikie in Australia