Field duties and the worst deal

Sermilik Station with bay

by Matthias Winkel

20th to 29th of July

Greenland, yeahah, finally a new chapter in my Arctic (here just defined as cold environment in the North) field work adventures is happening. After sailing in the East Siberian – and Laptev Sea, exploring peatland palsa on Samoylov island, drilling in a thermokarst lake of central Alaska or working on glaciers in Iceland, I will be able to see the second largest ice cap in the world.

When we talk about our science experiments and fieldwork in our blogs, we often neglect mentioning all the parts that are not that comfortable or different in such a remote place. With this post, I will give you some insight into the duties besides science that needs to be organized by us. Our situation is similar to camping. We are out in a hut with no running water and all electricity comes from a solar panel or a generator that charge a battery. For dishwashing and personal hygiene we just fill some water tanks from a little stream next to our hut. The water can be heated up if needed. At the beginning none of the small electrical pumps to use the sinks worked. Lucky us, we fixed the small pumps after the solar panel in tag team with the generator recharged our batteries and did not have to pour water out of the tank any more. Eva got so happy since her first task of the week was fulfilled, she had a smiley face on the digital screen of the battery control.

Most beautiful shower place

One important question came from my kids, they wanted to know how we wash ourselves? Even though we don’t have a proper shower there are some options to wash yourself. You can be a tough person and just wash yourself in the cold stream, which is very easy and fast. Another possibility is to heat some water fill it in a bucket or camping pocket shower, tell your colleagues in which direction you will go for showering and than get naked in the wild and clean yourself. Fortunately, we had a pole with some metal steps to hang the pocket shower. On a sunny day with icebergs floating in the bay and the glaciers in the background it was one of my best shower spots I had in my life.

Another interesting question of my kids was, how we handle the things that come out of our bodies after the meals? For the liquid stuff of the boys it is very easy just find a nice spot in nature and then go for it. For the solid phase it is more complicated, since there was no running water. We just had a poo bucket that needed to be emptied after a while. Unfortunately, we are mainly surrounded by rocky ground, which makes it impossible to dig a hole. The only chance we had was a little beach next to our huts, where we could dump the poo bucket in a hole once the tide was low. My colleague Chris and I volunteered for the first emptying after two days, while everybody else wanted to gamble for that duty. We discussed that this is a nasty job, nevertheless, it is done in 10 to 15 minutes. Knowing that there will be a lot of field sample processing in the coming week and time for cooking, water carrying and dish washing is limited, we set up a deal. We volunteered to do the job for the whole time, if we get rid of all the other common duties. You cannot imagine the faces of our colleagues when we advertised this deal. They thought we are mad. Our supervisor Liane even gave us a freebie. We were surprised too since in our mind we estimated that we only have to empty the bucket every second day. That was a total miscalculation. Once they accepted the deal everybody felt free and the new bucket was filled within a day, since none of the others had to be scared that they lose during gambling. I think it was a shitty deal in all sense.

Besides science and duties, we had some time in the beginning to use the fishing rods we found in one of the huts and try to catch a fish. We were slightly successful in catching one arctic char and a small arctic sculpin. Freshly prepared Arctic char with oil, salt, pepper, garlic and dill was just delicious.

The next blog post will give you some impressions of the glacier and the research.


A Fieldwork Journal

By Eva Doting

A ‘brief’ overview of our adventures in Greenland, based on the personal notes I made in the back of my lab journal in an attempt to hold on to the overwhelmingly awesome and beautiful experience of my first (and surely not last!) fieldwork expedition to Greenland.

Wednesday July 17
First flight, to Reykjavik, with a slight delay but otherwise fine. Hopped on the bus to the city centre, got out at BSI terminal and took a taxi to Aurora Guesthouse (too much luggage to carry), dropped off my luggage and hurried to the Hallgrímskirkja bus stop for an afternoon Golden Circle tour (made it with one minute to spare to the pick-up time, yay). Toured around Thingvellir, Gullfoss and the Geysir hot spring area for the afternoon alongside some friendly retired Americans and a funny tour guide. Still not a fan of group tours or busses, but a great way to see at least a tiny bit of Iceland. Fun facts: 75% of Icelandic children are born out of wedlock, and people check online in the book of Icelanders if they are related before they take dating to the next level… When I got back to the hotel, Laura & Chris & James arrived as I was checking in. After a lovely walk in a very warm and sunny Reykjavik, we grabbed some dinner close to the Phallological Museum, visited a rooftop bar and enjoyed some crêpes before heading to bed.

Thursday July 18
After breakfast, the four of us took a taxi to the local airport for our flight to Kulusuk (world’s tiniest gate?), which went smoothly (cool travel journals on the plane for passengers to share stories with each other, and amazing views from the window seat). Once in Kulusuk, the guys asked around for someone to transport our luggage down to the “harbor” (read: no real dock, basically just some upgraded rocks..), ran into the guy who would be our helicopter pilot the week after and found a guy with a quad + trailer who drove our luggage down. The tide was low, so loading the bags and boxes onto the little boat was an adventure. On the way to Tasiilaq we saw a Minke whale in the distance, and many many icebergs everywhere. In Tasiilaq, we were welcomed by a cloud of mosquitoes that accompanied us as we brought our bags and boxes up to Arctic Dream, our home for the next two nights. We soon headed out for a walk and an ice cream in the sun (because Greenland..) followed by lunch at the town café (yum, fries and chicken nuggets). The helicopter pilot joined us for a coffee to discuss flight plans before we made our first trip to a Greenlandic grocery store to stock up for dinner and breakfast. Our evening consisted of fajitas for dinner, watching a womens soccer game on the new town field, some more exploring and chats with the other Arctic Dream guests.

Friday July 19
After breakfast, Alex (a German guy employed by Arctic Dream to build an ice camp) asked us to help him move a rubber boat in return for his help with picking up our shipment from Royal Arctic and driving it up to Arctic Dream. This “quick” task ended up in four hours of first moving a big red rubber boat, which then also needed an engine.. We managed to get it into his trailer with the 5 of us (barely) and then go stuck on how to mount all those kilos onto the back of the boat. Luckily, some locals saw us struggling, and jumped in to help us out. With more luck than wisdom, the engine ended up on the boat without any loss of fingers or other limbs (Alex: “I work as a safety engineer, but luckily I can separate work and private..”). After 4 hours of driving around, some laundry and heavy lifting, we finally got what we asked for: a lift for our scientific equipment and food boxes from the harbour to Arctic Dream. Once we got everything onto the Arctic Dream patio (more heavy lifting, not so dangerous this time), we could finally go for lunch (more fries..). We then hit the grocery store again for a big shop to replace the rotten carrots from the shipment and to stock up on fresh food to bring to Sermilik. Once we were done shopping, we found out that the gas station was closing in half an hour. Chris and Laura rushed to get there in time, only to find out they had decided to close at 15.30 instead.. Chris was fearing for his job (no gas bottle = no cooking at Sermilik) until we found out from the team from Graz (Iris + Jakob), who came back from Sermilik station earlier that day, that there were 2 full bottles at the station. Arctic Dream was also able to sell us a full bottle, so Chris got to keep his job. We went back to the shops to pick up the last supplies (fuel tanks, ammunition and post cards) before enjoying a delicious dinner at Arctic Dream. To end the evening, we watched some more soccer (mens semi-final this time) and joined Jakob from the Graz team to the local bar.

Saturday July 20
We were supposed to leave Arctic Dream / Tasiilaq after 9:30, but at 7:15 that plan changed a little: leaving ASAP. We rushed through breakfast and packing, managed to buy fuel and bread on the way to the harbor and packed all our boxes into the boat that would take us to Sermilik Research Station. Once we got there, we got some help dropping our luggage and equipment onto yet another set of slippery rocks before we were left to our own devices. We spent a good while carrying everything up to the hut while trying to fight off the mosquitoes and went on a first exploratory round. When we got back, we started to unpack the first food boxes before realizing that we were too hungry to make sensible decisions and sat down for lunch (read: attempting to make and eat a sandwich as fast as you can). After a few hours, Matthias, Alex, Liane and the two journalists (Dan & Dewald) arrived and the team was finally complete! It was a little strange to suddenly not be just us 4 anymore, but it was nice to finally meet everyone in person. James and I cooked dinner, and we were all slowly settling in, making plans and getting to know each other. Sleeping arrangements: Laura & Eva, Matthias & Alex and Chris & James in the three bedrooms in the main hut, Liane in ‘presidential suite’ in the smallest hut, and Dan & Dewald in the ‘bedroom’ in the middle hut.

Sunday July 21
Time to hike up to Mittivakkat glacier for the first time! Plenty of sunshine and mosquitoes on the way there, followed by a quick ascend over the steepest part of the glacier by a bunch of scientists that was so mesmerized by nature’s beauty that they did not stop to see that the part a 100 meters to the left was only half as steep.. We successfully set up some incubation and VOC experiments and collected the first samples. Once we returned, we started the first processing (read: filtering of melted ice accompanied by the sound described by Laura here) and had cheese fondue for dinner.

Monday July 22
Today was supposed to be helicopter day, but after a long chat over the satellite phone (how did this become my task…?) the flight was cancelled because of clouds above the Greenland Ice Sheet. James, Matthias, Chris and I went up to Mittivakkat, where some fog started coming up the glacier while we were checking the experiments we had set up the day before, but luckily it wasn’t very thick. We returned to a lovely veggie stew with soy chunks made my Liane and had an interesting discussion about science communication before heading to bed.

Tuesday July 23
Laura made pancakes for breakfast! Another try at the helicopter today, but despite good weather at the station, clouds on the ice sheet caused another cancellation. We spent the first part of the day sample processing and relaxed a little in the afternoon. Matthias caught a fish and in the evening we played cards in Liane’s presidential suite while stressing about what to say once it was our turn to go to the main hut for an interview with Dan and Dewald. Dan cooked ragout, Matthias prepared his fish and we had another lovely dinner.

Wednesday July 24
Dan and Dewald went back to Tasiilaq by boat around 8:30, and we headed back to Mittivakkat with the plan to sample a snow-to-ice transect on another beautiful sunny day. It took us a while to get there (and to figure out a labelling system for our samples), but we had a successful day and managed to carry back heavy bags full of samples (especially Matthias, >32kg). We got home around 22:30, so Laura and I prepped some carrots + potatoes to go into the oven while the rest started processing. This was the day that the real processing madness began, and never stopped.

Thursday July 25
Another scheduled helicopter attempt, waiting for news while processing, sadly another cancellation (crappy, because this was the last day that Dan and Dewald would’ve been able to join the helicopter adventure). James, Laura, Chris and I went up to Mittivakkat to collect a fourth sample from the snow-to-ice transect, which felt almost Christmassy as we were again closed in by quick moving fog. We returned to a lovely veggie tagine cooked up by Liane and spend another long evening processing samples before heading to bed.

Friday July 26
The weather didn’t look great (worst at the station so far), so we spent breakfast chatting about how to get everything done in case we couldn’t fly the helicopter today. We started processing some samples, but around lunchtime we got a call that the helicopter could be there in half an hour, in case we wanted to attempt to go to the ice sheet today. After a brief deliberation, we decided to give it a go and panic-packed the equipment we would need up there. Like the geniuses we are, we had stuff lying around the hut and boxes ready at the landing area, which all went flying during the first helicopter landing attempt. Luckily, no one got hit by a flying Zarges box (though it was a close one for Alex) and the pilot gave us some time to get ourselves together (partly successful, note to self: lock the windows next time) before landing. From the helicopter , the weather on the ice sheet looked pretty discouraging, but we managed to land on an area to the side (no clouds) which was covered in what turned out to be refrozen snow. We must have looked pretty strange to our pilots (read: using trowels to collect snow in plastic bags while looking overly excited…), but they warmed up to us once we shared our snacks with them. They managed a second landing on some rocks right next to the end of glacier coming off the ice sheet, which became our second sampling site. Before getting to work, we all had to remove several layers of clothing, as the strong sun and lack of wind resulted in feel-temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (less than a week after we were there, the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced its largest single-day volume loss on record, loosing an estimated 12.5 billion tons of ice). We successfully collected ice samples and left behind one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Our pilot soared low over the water, treating us a breathtakingly close look at the hundreds of icebergs floating around in the fjord. Once back home, we quickly returned to the samples we had left behind in our rush to get ready for the helicopter flight. Alex added some canned veggies, coconut milk and polenta to Liane’s concoction from the previous night to serve up another delicious meal before we turned up the music to drown our the noise of our vacuum pumps until it was bedtime again around 1.30 AM.

Saturday July 27
A full day of sample processing by Liane, Laura, Chris and me. while Alex, Matthias and James went up to Mittivakkat to collect the last sample from the snow-to-ice transect. The weather outside was wonderfully sunny, and we enjoyed a lovely pasta dish for dinner in the company of our ever-present friend: the vacuum pump buzz.

Sunday July 28
RAIN! Laura called Arctic Dream to ask for a weather forecast and was told that it may get stormy in the afternoon. The predictions for the next day were better, so we all stayed in for another day (+ late night) of sample processing. James and I prepared some bean burgers based on tips from Laura, who was stuck filtering, and seasoning help from Alex (who poured in pine nuts?!). Same old, same old: long night of processing samples, great music and even better company in our cosy hut!

Monday July 29
More rain… But we had sampling to do and the weather wasn’t too bad, so Liane and Matthias stayed at the hut to deal with the never ending filtering and lab work, while the rest of us went up to collect the last samples. The hike up was a little slippery, but with the major perk of no mosquitoes due to the crappy weather. There was a bit of fog on the glacier again, but the view was decent enough, so we went ahead as planned. Alex and Laura collected the first things to carry down and headed back to the hut to join the processing team while James, Chris and I stayed on the glacier to collect the final samples. Once we were at the bottom of the glacier around 15:00, we noticed some missed-call-notifications on the satellite phone. Chris called back to the hut, and it turned out that they had been trying to reach us for a good few hours, as they had been notified that we should leave either later that day, or may not be able to leave until the end of the week due to bad weather coming in. We hurried the hour hike back to the hut, and helped the others to pack all our things and clean the hut. We were picked up by a boat around 18:30 and managed to pack all our boxes of equipment, our luggage and ourselves into the boat. After a final group picture and a bittersweet goodbye to the station, we headed back to Tasiilaq over a wavy sea. Once we got back to Tasiilaq, where it was raining pretty bad, it took us some time to get all our boxes up to Arctic Dream and find a safe spot where they would not fill to the brim with water. When that was done, we could finally (21:30) on the amazing dinner that was waiting for us, which we devoured as if we hadn’t eaten in days. It was pretty magical to eat fresh vegetables again, but sadly we couldn’t enjoy this magic for too long, as there was (surprise!) more filtering to do! Some good music and a solid team effort helped us get through the most important samples of the day, and at 03:30 we were finally all in bed to get some well-deserved rest.

Tuesday July 30
After a lovely breakfast, we went back to work. Some of us continued with sample processing, while others worked on arranging the shipment of our equipment back to Denmark with Royal Arctic and on repacking the boxes so that Liane, Chris and James had the right things ready to bring to their additional four days of fieldwork in Iceland. Sadly, I didn’t make it past the balcony fence of Arctic Dream today, but at least the weather wasn’t that great either, so I didn’t miss much. At 19:00, all of us were done with lab work and packing, and we could sit down for another delicious meal, which included a sizeable chuck of an 11kg cod that had been caught by a local fisherman a day earlier. This must have been our earliest dinner in over 10 days, so we were all a little confused by the fact that is was still so early once we finished eating, and that we didn’t have any more filtering to do that night. We spent a lovely last evening chatting, laughing and playing games before we went to bed to get some rest to prepare for the first goodbyes the next morning.

Wednesday July 31
After a last breakfast together, James, Chris, Liane and I left Tasiilaq behind to catch our flight to Iceland, while Alex, Matthias and Laura stayed behind for one more night to arrange the final details for the shipment of our equipment. And just like that, the dream team 2019 adventure in Greenland was over…


Another day in the field – glacial gardening and snow magic

submitted by Laura Halbach

8:30 am

I’m waking up by the deep vibrating noise of vacuum filtration pumps. Matthias and Chris are using them in the living room next door to filter melted ice onto various types of filters. A very unspectacular, yet important step of processing ice samples. Back home in the lab, these filters will be used for different analysis using high-end scientific instrumentations. However, in the field it all comes down to simple filtration work. Thus, the constant noise of vacuum pumps will accompany us throughout our stay at Sermilik research station. The other members of the team are already preparing breakfast. Porridge prepared with milk powder, topped up with raisins, apple and peanut butter, in addition there is tea and coffee – a satisfying morning meal throughout our stay. I am looking forward stretching my feet and hike up the glacier today. I start packing my backpack for today’s sampling. Most crucial items that will be packed are: dark chocolate, warm tea and lots of warm clothes (in addition to other essential stuff like an ice axe, first aid kit, sampling bags, lab gloves, a rifle and ammunition).

Filtration, filtration, filtration …

11:00 am

We start our hike up to the glacier. We are passing by a beautiful long beach and a river that is being fed by the runoff of the glacier Mittivakkat. After an approximately 1 ½ hours hike we reach the tongue of the glacier, where we finally escape the mosquitos that were hunting along the path. We put on our crampons and continue the way up on the glacier. Every time I notice something new when walking over the glacier. A new type of ice formation or aggregations of dark particles and microbes. Ice is not just ice. In fact it’s a dynamic habitat that is permanently shaped by surface meltwater channels, precipitation, glacier movements and the growth of microbial communities that color the ice surface brown or red. We decide to walk far up the glacier in the hope to discover a patch of snow, which would allow us to compare the snow against the ice habitat. And, lucky day, we encountered a beautiful snow patch.

What a beautiful sampling site on Mittivakkat!!

1:30 pm

As we arrive at the snow field, I put on two additional layers of clothes and start to explore the sampling site together with James and Eva using a drone. Best decision to purchase a drone! It’s such a great tool to explore and capture the scale of the ice and snow patches and their large-scale coloration! Together we start to collect the first 1-2 cm of snow and ice layer. I have to smile seeing us all scraping off the ice as it reminds me of gardening, because that’s what we are basically doing right now, harvesting the algae (i.e. glacial gardening). While building a pile of scraped-off ice with a bunch of shovels we could also very well be on a beach building sand castles using the same tools. How lucky we are doing this as part of our jobs!

Glacial gardening

Even though most of us haven’t worked together before, everything runs smoothly and working together is a lot of fun. Apart from our set out tasks, Alex discovers a new magical trick transforming seemingly white snow to red snow after shaking it in a plastic bottle. He is happy about his new achievement and his trick will be recorded on video to demonstrate his strong magical power to another audience one day (stay tuned!). “You are priceless!” comments Liane on his trick. Even when fooling around, I cannot help looking around into the distance to watch out for polar bears every now and then. Of course, I know that the probability to encounter one on this glacier is low, but better safe than sorry.

4:30 pm

After a cup of warm tea and some snacks we start our way back home with around 5 kg of extra weight (ice!) in our backpacks. This part of fieldwork is new to me, since I usually worked on ships before and the distance of transporting sampled water on research vessels is usually no further than the next room. At least it’s only downhill on the way back.

6:30 pm

We arrive late in the hut and samples need to be stored before we continue sample filtrations, while some of us start to prepare the dinner. It gets cozy in the hut during the evenings. James puts on some music, while Eva and I start to light some candles. The hut could easily be mistaken as a museum. It is full of stuff from previous expeditions and old scientific instruments (of which I have no clue for what they should be used for). Hand-drawn graphs, old maps and photos cover the walls. Full of stuff, yet cozy. When dinner is ready, Liane encourages everyone to switch off the last vacuum pumps to reward ourselves with some silence when enjoying yet again a fantastic meal!

Museum or research station ?

1:00 am

After having finished processing the last ice samples collected on the day before, I start to get ready for bed. Luckily, all samples collected today still have to melt before we can start to filter them. Looking outside of the window, I notice the wonderful evening light outside, so I quickly put on a jacket and go outside to take a quick last picture of the hut and the bay. My knees slightly hurt from today’s hike, but tomorrow I will only process samples, so at least there is one day of rest for my legs. I climb up on my bunk bed and close my eyes. Tonight, I won’t set an alarm. I know that I can count on the vacuum pumps being switched on when it’s time to get up.

Sermilik research station at night

Cryoshipper and a photo of a “polar bear”

Alex Anesio (Aarhus University)

Just got to Reykjavik and I am excited to meet the full team in Greenland tomorrow. There will be a last relaxing day before the intensive fieldwork starts. Today, I will be meeting Liane, Matthias and the Guardian team.

One would think that the most challenging aspects of fieldwork in Greenland are all the health and safety, walking with heavy gear in irregular terrain, carrying rifles for polar bear protection, long days in the field and lab. However, I have always found the most challenging aspect is to get through airport security with suspicious pieces of equipment for fieldwork. Today, it was very close that I could not catch my flight as I was carrying a cryoshipper (super important to keep samples frozen during the whole period in Greenland and the way back). As the container is very cold inside, smoke can come out of it if placed on the side, which was exactly what happen today as the cryoshipper was been loading in the plane. Never mind. After explaining about its contents and purpose in 3 different places and to about 10 different people involved in airport security, I have made to Reykjavik with my luggage and cryoshipper. I can’t wait to see how it will go tomorrow on the way to Greenland. It should be easier as we are more people and the purpose of the travel becomes clearer too. I shouldn’t expect anything else, considering the combination of my looks, travelling alone and carrying a smoking strange-look like piece of luggage.

In order to relax and to kill time before going to Greenland, I decided to pay a visit to the very famous Phallological Museum in Reykjavik. Not that I hope to see one in reality, but I thought I would also post a genuine polar bear specimen of the museum.

Polar bear specimen from the Phallological Museum in Reykjavik

Later in the afternoon, I met with Liane and Matthias and we started talking about the plans for Greenland and loads of science.

Alex Anesio

Day 1 in Greenland (Tasiilaq- final logistics)

Contributed by James Bradley (@DrBradBrad) from Tasiilaq, Greenland

I’m in Tasiilaq enjoying blueberry ice cream on a sunny deck – not something I thought I would be doing on arrival in Greenland. Chris and I finally met Laura and Eva in person in Reykjavik after several virtual meetings from our home labs. So far the weather is on our side – from rooftop bars in Iceland to hiking rocky outcrops in Greenland.

We’re busy preparing food, fuel, rifles, shipments, and helicopter ops, for our onward journey to Sermilik, Mittivakkat, and the ice sheet. Months of logistics planning is finally playing out, and we now run on Greenland time which seems to be dictated by a balance of weather and mood. 

We’re excited to be joined by the remainder of the Greenland science team tomorrow. Fingers crossed the weather holds for a smooth crossing of the fjord – as we attempt to move 9 people and >700 kg of freight.

2019 Greenland and Iceland Field Work – Part 4a – Preparations in Denmark

submitted by Eva Doting

On April 29, 2019, two days before starting my PhD at the Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, I received a phone call from my supervisor-to-be Alex, which went something like this:

Alex: Hey Eva! How are you?
Me: Good, thanks! How are you?
Alex: I’m good! I’ll just get right to it: are you free the last two weeks of July?
Me: Uhm, yes, I think so… Why?
Alex: It’s just been confirmed that we are joining a team from Potsdam for fieldwork in Greenland, so if you send me your passport details, I will book your flight!

So, that was sorted: We are going to Greenland! From then on, it was go go go to get everything planned, organised, ordered and packed. Our main challenge: we all just got started at the department (Alex in November 2018, Laura in April 2019 and me in May 2019), so our preparation was much like a scientific treasure hunt 🕵🏼‍♀️

Ready for shipment!

Every corner of our office looked like this!

Yesterday, R2D2, our cryoshipper, and
latest addition to the team, arrived!

For over a month, colleagues, suppliers and the internet helped us to fill our office to the brim with boxes upon boxes of syringes, vacuum pumps, filters, filtration systems, flasks, tubes, tape and so much more. And somehow, by June 28 we managed to pack (hopefully?!) everything we need for our fieldwork into 6 boxes.With some amazing help from Chris in Potsdam, we even managed to had the right labels, customs declaration and shipment booking ready when a gigantic truck come to pick up our things for a roadtrip to Aalborg. In Aalborg they will boarded the Mary Arctica of the Royal Arctic Line, which will sail everything, along with the shipment of the GFZ team, to Tasiilaq, where we are hoping to be reunited on July 18.

Of course, next to getting all the scientific stuff ready, we also made some time for the necessary safety training. We spent a great day with colleagues from the Department of Bioscience on Arctic First Aid, and I spent an adrenaline-filled day with colleagues from the Geological Survey of Greenland and Denmark (GEUS) at the shooting range to learn all about rifle maintenance, how to act in case a polar bear is around, and what to do in case it comes to self defence.

Our instructor showing us how to clean a rifle.

I think they should have chosen a less cute target…

So, with one week to go before the first of us set off to Iceland to catch our flights to Kulusuk, all that remains is testing of the instruments that we are bringing as luggage, buying some last-minute necessities and packing our personal bags! Greenland here we come!

2019 Greenland and Iceland Field Work – Part 4b – Playing Tetris in the labs @ GFZ

submitted by Chris Trivedi and Rey Mourot

Spring and summer are an exciting (and often hectic) time in labs that study Arctic processes. While other people may be wrapping up school and preparing for holiday we are feverishly getting ready to head to the field. As the snow begins to melt from glaciers and ice sheets we’re gearing up to get “boots on the ground”!

Depending on the types of experiments we will run and samples we plan to collect, these field trips can range from a week to months – and the planning for these timelines can feel monumental in task. As in all cases, preparation and teamwork are the key to organizing, packing, and shipping gear on time.

In 2019 we will head to southeast Greenland to spend time on Mittivakkat glacier and the ice sheet itself. In total this will be 10 days on the ice. After that, part of our team will break off and spend 5 additional days sampling at Snæfelsjökull and Langjökull glaciers in Iceland. This works out to be roughtly 108 person days between both trips, which can be visualized in the number of boxes of scientific equipment and food we have shipped (21 in total).

This, however, only represents the finished product, ready to be put on a boat to Greenland – what is probably more telling is the process of how all of these boxes were eventually filled. As proud as I would be to say that we managed this feat in a few weeks, that would be far from the truth. The planning for this trip began, in earnest, almost four months prior. In March I began communicating with Royal Arctic Line, the company that would ship our collective goods (from Potsdam and Roskilde) to Tasiilaq in Greenland. What happened in between then and now went something a little like this:

Liane: Hey, how may 50 mL test tubes are we taking?

Chris/Matthias/Rey: I don’t know, maybe 200.

Liane: Do you think that will be enough? Maybe we should take 300.

Chris/Matthias/Rey: I don’t think we have that many.

Liane: Do we need that many? How many samples do you want to take/process?

Chris/Matthias/Rey: hmmm, I guess we should figure that out first? …Well let’s put together an order!

As Eva already alluded to in her post above, the months leading up to a field trip are dominated with numerous orders of lab consumables and running between the office and the lab, with pen and paper in hand, thinking to oneself “Do we have <insert item here>?”

The end result is nice and organized, but the real chaos can be summed up by the following timelapse:

Our trip would not be complete without the heroic efforts of Ayleen Gaete (an awesome PhD student), who so lovingly packed our food boxes, so we won’t starve during our journey. As you can see above, we showed our appreciation by strapping a GoPro to her while she packed. Thanks Ayleen!

To say this gets easier over time is a misnomer. While you do learn to be more efficient after each trip, often times the questions being asked are different and varied, and require their own unique set of consumables and equipment. This helps to make the process exciting and a potential logistical challenge each time.

Stay tuned to the blog series until after our adventure where we hope to recount our thrilling experience of our time in Greenland and Iceland…oh, and we’ll make sure to throw some science in next time as well!

2019 Greenland and Iceland Field work – Part 3 – The Team

We are a mixed bag of very international people based in Germany, the UK,  Denmark and South Africa. The scientists among us work either:

  • at the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) in Potsdam, Germany
  • at Queen Mary University in London (QMUL), UK
  • at the Department of Environmental Sciences at Aarhus University, Denmark

we are accompanied on part of our trip by

  • a Scottish journalist and a South African filmmaker.

Our science team comprises microbiologists, molecular ecologists, geochemists, and modellers and we all study cryospheric environments and the processes linked to how snow and ice microbes in general and pigmented algae in particular affect nutrient and carbon cycling as well as albedo in polar settings. All but one of us will work in Greenland and  4 of the 5 GFZ team members will continue in with fieldwork in Iceland.

Chris TrivediChris Trivedi (🇺🇸 working in 🇩🇪) is a microbiologist / molecular ecologist with a 2018 PhD from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, which focused on characterizing microbial communities of a Canadian High Arctic sulfidic spring (see latest publication here). He joined the Interface Geochemistry team at the GFZ in January 2019 and his current research addresses the diversity and metabolism of snow and ice algal blooms. His twitter handle is @Chris_Trivedi


Matthias Winkel

Matthias Winkel (🇩🇪 working in 🇩🇪) is a microbiologist / molecular ecologist with a 2013 PhD on deep sea microbial processes from the MPI for Marine Microbiology in Bremen,  Germany. Following a postdoctoral fellowship studying organic matter degradation and methane cycling in permafrost (see latest publications here or here), he joined the Interface Geochemistry team in July 2018 and  studies organic carbon cycling in supraglacial ice and snow. His twitter handle is @knutkonopke


james-bradley.jpgJames Bradley (🇬🇧 working in 🇩🇪 and 🇬🇧) is a biogeochemical modeler focusing on energy, carbon and nutrients in polar / marine settings. After a  PhD in 2016 at the University of Bristol, and a postdoctoral stay at C-DEBI / DCO @ University of Southern California, he joined the GFZ Interface Geochemistry team in 2019 as a Humboldt Research Fellow. James is a Lecturer In Environmental Sciences at QMUL in the UK.  His twitter handle is @DrBradBrad 


Rey Mourot (🇫🇷 working in 🇩🇪 and 🇫🇷) is a Master student in biology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and since February 2019 a junior researcher in the Interface Geochemistry team at the GFZ. They work on cryophilic extremophiles and astobiological issues and have already done field work in Iceland and will again join the GFZ team for the Iceland fieldwork. Their twitter handle is @Rey_Mourot


Laura HalbachLaura Halbach (🇩🇪 working in 🇩🇰) is a polar marine biologist currently doing her PhD at the Department of Environmental Science at Aarhus University. Within her PhD project, she investigates the growth, pigmentation and production of metabolites of algae thriving on the ice surface of glaciers. Before her PhD, she did a Master in Marine Science at the University of Gothenburg focussing on the influence of tidewater glaciers on fjord biogeochemistry (see latest publication here). 


Eva_DotingEva Lisa Doting (🇳🇱 working in 🇩🇰) is an environmental chemist who recently started her PhD in Arctic Biogeochemisty at the Department of Environmental Science at Aarhus University. Her project focusses on exploring potential biomarkers exuded by algae living on the ice surface as well as on the use of analytical methods such as IC-Orbitrap-MS for the analysis of algal and sediment samples from polar regions. Her twitter handle is @EvaDoting.


Liane G. Benning 2017

Liane G. Benning (🇪🇺 working in 🇩🇪) is a Professor of Interface Geochemistry @ GFZ with> 25 years of research experience (see publications here). Her team study Earth surface processes including (i) how minerals form (ii) what geobiological processes drive carbon and nutrient cycling in extreme environments and (iii) develops new high-resolution tools for the characterization of geo-bio-interface reactions. She started with fieldwork in Polar settings in 1990. Her twitter handle is @LianeGBenning


Alex AnesioAlexandre M. Anesio (🇧🇷🇸🇪 working in 🇩🇰) is a Professor in Arctic Biogeochemistry at Aarhus University. He has ~ 20 years of research experience in molecular and biogeochemical approaches related to microbial functioning in extreme environments and published > 100 peer-reviewed papers. With > 17 years of Arctic fieldwork experience, including in Greenland his team aims to demonstrate the impact of microbial processes on i) albedo, ii) production, accumulation and export of organic carbon and nutrients, and iii)  diversity and biogeochemical cycles of glacial settings. His twitter handle is  @AlexAnesio


During our field work in Greenland, we will, for a few days, also enjoy the company of




the journalist Dan McDougall from Miran Media (🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇬🇧 working everywhere around the 🌎)




Dewald Brand


and the filmmaker Dewald Brand (🇿🇦 working everywhere around the 🌎)






We very much look forward to chat with them, yet we fear that they do not yet know what hit them when they agree to join a bunch of crazy cryo-scientists going into the field 🙂

Our field work begins in about 2 weeks and we can hardly wait.


2019 Greeland and Iceland field work – Part 2 – Field sites

In the summer of 2019 field work will take us to Greenland and Iceland where we will focus on elucidating various aspects of microbial processes and carbon cycling in snow and ice settings.

First, we will be based at Sermilik Station in SE Greenland and work on the Greenland Ice Sheet and on Mittivakkat glacier. This field work is part of the project AirMiMic, which is in part funded by InterAct, and we also acknowledge funding from the Helmholtz Recruiting Initiative and a Humboldt Foundation Fellowship grant.

Sermilik_Station web
Sermilik Station (image Wikipedia)

Following that, some of us will  continue with more field work in Iceland ‘s snow and ice beuty in and around Snæfellsjökull National Park and Langjökull.

Snæfellsjökull in winter
Snæfellsjökull (image Google)
Langjokull image 2
Langjökull (image Google)

see next post for team composition.

2019 Greenland and Iceland field work – Part 1 – Introduction

In Summer 2019 we will again spend time in SE-Greenland and Iceland to continue our research on geo-biological processes that drive algal blooms on snow and ice.

This year we have a large combined team. I am happy to again link up with Alex Anesio and his team from Aarhus Univeristy and also with James Bradley from Queen Mary University who is also a Humboldt Fellow in my group at the GFZ.

We want to thanks InterAct for part of our SE-Greenland field campaign funding (this blog will be mirrored on the InterAct blog site at ArcticResearch), for support for James Bradley’s travel costs from the Humboldt Foundation, for the support from the University of Aarhus for Alex’s team and for the Helmholtz Recruiting Initiative @GFZ to complement the costs of the GFZ team to Greenland and all of Iceland.

Stay tuned for various glorious summer field work pictures and stories .