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Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements

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Day 34 - June 8 2006

Today I had the most thrilling plane ride of my life. Dennis, who tends to be the early riser, woke us at 7:00 am and we began our last-minute packing and dressed in our survival clothing. Breakfast was at 8 am. The sky was overcast, but the forecast to the south was good and the flight was a go. The plan was to first fly south down the east coast of Greenland, instead of going west to Thule. On the way we would make two stops, first at Daneborg and then Constable Point before heading west across the main ice sheet to Kangerlussuaq. The flight would take about 11 hours.

We bade an emotional goodbye to many of our friends for the last month, those staying behind. We thanked our hosts at Station Nord, Svenn, Claus, Thomas and Kim, for all their help and hospitality and departed at about 9:15 am. About 20 minutes later, we saw our camp on Flade Isblink for the last time. It looked quite small against the ice dome backdrop and we hurriedly took pictures and videos of what had been our home for the last month, then continued on our journey south toward Daneborg.

Our last look at Flade Isblink field station, as viewed from the Twin Otter.

A Twin Otter is an unpressurized turboprop with a load capacity of approximately 2 tons. This one was chartered from Greenland Air. Staler and Flemming, our pilots, were very experienced and knew their stuff. Because of the lack of pressurization, we cruised at an altitude of only about 10,000 feet and a speed of about 160 mph (~145 knots). This also meant that at times we flew low and slow through high passes with mountains above us on both sides At times we flew only 40-100 m off the deck. Needless to say, the view was specatular!

The mountains of eastern Greenland

We landed in Daneborg at 12:40 pm after flying just above the ground for the last half hour. While flying low over the sea ice just off the coast, we saw polar bear tracks. We also saw lots of tracks inland and along ridges, but we believe these were most likely made by musk ox or caribou as polar bears tend not to venture far from sea ice. We had flown low so Naja could see a small hut her grandfather, a famous Danish explorer, had built and been forced to live in with another comrade for two years in the early 1900s while waiting to be rescued by sea. Naja was able to view the hut from the air, but became so excited while trying to get a good look that she almost fell into the cockpit.

At Daneborg we met the two men from the Danish Sirius (dog sled) Patrol, Per and Mathias, who surveyed our skidoo route up Flade Isblink back in April.

Daneborg, a Danish military base, is also the Sirius Patrol headquarters in Greenland. Here they keep and train their sled dogs and take them out on patrols lasting 2 months at a time. While there, we met two members of the patrol, Per and Mathias, who held special interest for us. These two men went out in early April, just after the spring equinox and the return of daylight to Greenland to Flade Isblink, to check if it would be possible to get up on the dome by Skidoo. They had confirmed that it was, which made the midseason mission possible. We extended our thanks to both of these men and took their pictures. We departed Daneborg at about 1:25 pm.

Our Twin Otter pilots, Stahle Rogstad (left) and Flemming Norgaard posed for us at Constable Pynt while refueling.

We landed at Constable Point around 2:45 pm, refueled, took a coffee break and took off again about 3:30. Since the airstrip was located in a valley near sea level, we circled a couple times to gain altitude for crossing a ridge and we headed WSW toward the great ice cap of Greenland for Kangerlussuaq. First we flew up a long fjord, then along a long, crevassed glacier and then over several more ridges to the main ice sheet, a nearly featureless expanse of white, stretching off to the western horizon. The last leg of our flight took about 4 hours and 15 minutes and we had to fly under low hanging clouds for the last hour of the trip to prevent ice from accumulating on the plane. We landed in Kangerlussuaq at 5:45 pm local time .

Shortly before landing in Kangerlussuaq, we observed blue ice on the main ice sheet. This phenomenon is similar that which makes water blue and occurs where snow has recrystallized to ice. Water and ice absorb red and yellow visible light preferentially, leaving reflected light that is predominantly blue.

While dodging mosquito swarms and rain, we drove to the the Row Club, a small restaurant set in the country a couple miles outside of Kangarlussuaq. There we ate a dinner of delicious smoked halibut, reindeer medallions and fresh salads. We sat next to a large window overlooking a lake with mountains in the distance, and watched an Arctic fox run by outside while we were eating. The scenery was beautiful and it was a refreshing change from all the snow and ice of the last month.

At the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) hotel, we ran into Chandini Veeramachaneni. Chandini is a graduate student from India who works at CReSIS. She was there working on an airborne radar mapping project of the Jakobshavn glacier on the west coast about 100 miles north with our associate Pannir Kanagaratnam. Chandini told us that they had also run into some bad weather while trying to map the glacier and were somewhat behind schedule, so Pannir was still out flying, while she remained behind to process data. We also learned that she will be flying back to New York on Saturday on the same plane as Dennis and I.


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