In my previous blog post, I talked about what life was like living in Copenhagen, but along with my study program through DIS, I had the opportunity to go on study tours in both Iceland and Greenland as a part of my coursework for Climate Change and Glacier Modeling and Arctic Ecology. In both of these courses, I had the unique opportunity to travel, learn, and conduct fieldwork in the Arctic. This was an incredible and unique experience that provided an in-depth look at the challenges that are being faced in the Arctic in the context of climate change from both a scientific and cultural perspective.
In my Climate Change and Glacier Modeling class, we first traveled from Copenhagen to Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. There, we explored the city and talked to researchers at the Icelandic Meteorological Office about the impacts melting glaciers have on Iceland, the Arctic, and the overall climate system. Here, we had an engaging discussion on glacial outburst floods, or jökulhlaups, where volcanic activity can cause rapid melting of a glacier and subsequent flooding. The next day, we drove outside of Reykjavik through the highlands of Iceland to go to the second largest ice cap in Iceland, Langjökull (Icelandic for “long glacier”). There, we took a specialized vehicle to the top of the ice cap to avoid falling into any snow-covered crevasses. This was an impressive vehicle that could hold up to 40 people, had 8 wheels with over 40 gears, and would change its tire pressure while driving to compensate for the changing altitude and maintain traction on the snow cover. Once we got to the top, we went into the world’s largest artificially-created tunnel inside Langjökull. There, we could study and see first-hand the different layers of ice that had melted and refrozen each year, which act as an archive of past climate on the glacier and can even show when volcanic eruptions occurred.
Later in our trip, we explored and looked at different features while hiking on an outlet glacier in Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður or Vatnajökull National Park home to Iceland’s largest ice cap. There, we were able to see more of Iceland’s stunning landscapes in a glacier lagoon and learn about the mass-balance processes that impact the overall glacier and glacial melt.
The following month for my Arctic Ecology class, we traveled from Copenhagen to Greenland to learn more about Arctic species interactions and collect data in the field for a study at the University of Copenhagen. While in Greenland we stayed in Ilulissat, which is a town in Northern Greenland with only 4,000 people, making it the third largest city in Greenland. Ilulissat, which is located over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is home to the Ilulissat Icefjord, one of Greenland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Icefjord itself is fed by Sermeq Kujalleq, which is the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. The icefjord contains massive icebergs that break off from the glacier and can be over 1,000 feet tall. These icebergs can also get caught into currents taking them into the North Atlantic and traveling as far south as the coasts of Newfoundland. In fact, it is thought to believe that the iceberg that sank the Titanic originated from the Ilulissat Icefjord. The icefjord is a piece of magnificent scenery that is honestly unlike anything else on Earth. The calving and floating of the icebergs make for a constantly changing landscape that is truly spectacular.
The following day in our travels throughout Greenland, we took a longer than expected ferry ride from Ilulissat to Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island. The ferry ride was tense since it took an extra hour to navigate and break through the floating ice in Disko Bay. After 6 hours of breaking through the ice and a wavy boat ride, our class finally arrived in Qeqertarsuaq. We went to the University of Copenhagen Arctic Research Station to start our field work and then continued our field work at a moraine lake that was a 2-hour hike North East of Qeqertarsuaq.
After a day of collecting data and hiking, we returned to Ilulissat where we spent the following day traveling to a small Inuit settlement of Oqaatsut, where only 23 people live. There, we got to immerse ourselves in the Inuit food and culture and even took a swim in the icy Disko Bay.
After our morning in Oqaatsut, we took a 7-hour hike back to Ilulissat where we came across more of Greenland’s breathtaking views of icebergs, cliffs, and blue coastlines. Once we finished our trek in Ilulissat, we came back to our guesthouse to have a full spread of Greenlandic cuisine complete with shrimp, seal, and caribou. Despite our exhaustion from our long hike that day, it was hard to sleep knowing we only had a few hours left in Greenland (not to mention having 24 hours of daylight). On our last day, we spent time hiking one last time to a different part of the Ilulissat icefjord where we saw more incredible icebergs and historical landmarks within Ilulissat. When it was time to take off and leave for Copenhagen, I was sad to be leaving Greenland, but was grateful for the incredible time spent experiencing such a unique and remote place on Earth.
Both of my experiences in Iceland and Greenland were unforgettable, and I will cherish my time spent in the Arctic. I hope to be able to return and visit other places in the Arctic considering it is such a unique place with dynamic change, and is a place of great study within many different fields of science. Studying in Greenland and Iceland have been some of the most tremendous experiences of my life, and I will always look back at my time spent there fondly.
This post was contributed by Ryan Hammock, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
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