We have just arrived in port at Thule, Greenland, after a two-day transit through icy waters. As we passed the massive Humboldt Glacier, we started seeing huge icebergs sculpted and smoothed into bizarre and beautiful shapes towering above Oden.
The water temperature rose from -1 degree C to about 4 degrees C – a big change that also warmed the air. The deck was frozen this morning, but thawed quickly. Dinner last night included white tablecloths, and speeches and congratulations all around; we launched a challenging and complex expedition to a hostile region, and accomplished every goal and more.
A month ago, Petermann Fjord and Hall Basin had only the most rudimentary of maps and had hardly been sampled beyond reconnaissance. Now this is one of the best-mapped places in the world’s oceans, and has been sampled from top to bottom. We added 6,500 kilometers of new survey lines covering 4,300 square kilometers. We expected to get about 20 cores but ended up with nearly 60. We traced the flow path of warm salty water that is filling Petermann Fjord and threatening its ice shelf that in turn supports the Greenland Ice Sheet. Our geologic samples will reveal the history of the region on land, in the ocean, and at the shoreline. We’ve got a good start at understanding the ecological responses to change in this harsh and fragile system. All the teams have given their science talks, and I am awed both at the quality of the science that is developing, and the amount of learning and leadership shown by the young scientists. This group of 58 scientists worked extremely well together, and we intend to keep the group connected as a team for the next few years in spite of intercontinental distance and too-busy lives. We need to make sure all the connections between fields are explored. I can’t wait to see the lab results that will emerge over the next few years. I expect there will be many more expeditions to this natural laboratory in the future.
As we entered port tonight, we saw our first sunset in more than a month. It isn’t quite dark, and the sun will be back up in a few hours. But for us it is time to go home.
The science party leaves in the morning, catching a military flight to Kangerlussuaq. I will stay on the ship for one more day so I can meet with an official visitor from Nunavut. I am happy to do this; we are guests in this region, and we hope our research helps the residents of the Arctic. This region is poised for change, and those who build their lives here must plan for a future, one that is unlike their past.
p.s. – I couldn’t resist playing a joke on the Captain. At last night’s dinner, after I accused him of missing a critical flag in the ship’s collection, I corrected the omission by presenting the ship an OSU flag featuring Benny Beaver in a sailor hat. He loved it and immediately raised the Oregon State colors atop Oden’s mast. The Beaver Nation rules the Arctic!