Archive for April, 2012

Traveling to the North Pole, Part 1: the Herc to Greenland

April 30th, 2012 | Category: Arctic,Travel,Work

I’m working as part of a Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab/Columbia University LDEO collaboration on the Switchyard project, which among other things, collects data about the origin of water in the arctic region, and is also collecting depth soundings for the sea floor under the arctic ice in the area known as the Lincoln sea.  I’m the team member from JHU that wrote the firmware for the device and is taking it into the Arctic to use it for the first time.

See here for a map of my trip up to the polar region.  I’m not literally staying at the geographic north pole, but at a military/research base that is the northern most inhabited place on the planet – CFS (Canadian Forces Station) Alert Bay.  Alert bay is about 450 miles from the pole; we’ll be flying twin otter ski planes daily from Alert towards the Pole, landing at various spots and drilling holes through the ice so that we can sample the ocean water beneath and insert sensors under the ice.

The Air National Guard is responsible for ferrying people and supplies northward,under the management of the national science foundation.  The departure point is Stratton Air force base in Schenectady, NY, which is the home of the 109th Air lift wing of the NY air national guard, which performs the flights. So they picked us up from our hotel at 5AM, and we were briefed and awaited boarding permission.  The plane had already been stuffed with our gear.


It took about 6.5 hours, but eventually, the Dramatic coast of Greenland came into view.

Greenland is a majestically barren and quiet place.  We landed at Kangerlussuaq, which is a base dedicated to supporting various arctic missions.  Kangerlussuaq sits just inside the arctic circle.  The Kangerlussuaq International Science Support organization (KISS) provides housing, food and other logistics to people like me – scientists and engineers going to the polar regions.

Since it doesn’t get dark until midnight, I was able to borrow a bike from KISS and take a pretty difficult ride up to Black ridge, which overlooks the town.  Along the way I saw some of the unique Greenland Dogs.

Musk oxen are hunted and are a common source of food.  I was fed Musk Ox stew for dinner.

This is what it looks like at 10 PM here.  The effect will be even more pronounced close to the pole.

Note the street names.

Check out the sign…

There are no roads here; every board and sack of cement has come here on an aircraft.  It’s not beautiful, but it is very welcoming.

Tomorrow we will get up at 5AM, which is better than the 4AM wakeup today!  Then, we will fly to Alert, with a stop for refueling in Thule.