Greenland – an ironic name for an island covered in ice. It has one of Earth’s largest land ice sheets, second only to Antarctica. For the next six weeks, a tent on this chilly remote island will be my home. Today, 2 August 2017, myself and 5 other scientists will be flying out to Iceland and then on to Kulusuk, a tiny airport on the south-east coast of Greenland.
We’re not going to study the ice, we’re going there for the rocks. Four hundred kilometres north of the airport there is a small area of rock called the Skaergaard Intrusion (look at Google Maps if you’re interested: https://goo.gl/maps/FH6aC4HH5Q42), which is exposed along the coast between the sea and the ice-sheet. You can think of it like a frozen magma chamber: a large amount of basaltic magma intruded the Earth’s crust around 55 million years ago but was blocked from reaching the surface. The vat of magma cooled slowly, taking about 100,000 years to solidify. This intrusion formed at a time when Greenland was next to Europe and the same large-scale processes that formed the Skaergaard magma also caused the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, pushing Greenland away from the UK. The frozen magma chamber was preserved through time and eroded by wind, storms, ice and the sea, so it’s now visible at the Earth’s surface. We’re going there to collect samples of rock and geologically map small areas in a lot of detail, to answer some big questions about how magma solidifies in intrusions and ultimately where it comes from.
Our fieldwork is remote. An expedition like this requires a lot of forward planning and preparation. We’re extremely lucky to be going with the Danish Geological Survey who regularly run trips to different parts of Greenland. We shipped our food and all the heavy things about a month ago, so they’re waiting for us in Greenland. We have a boat that will take us from Kulusuk northwards to the field site, where we will be dropped off with all our gear. We will wave goodbye to the boat, and then we’re on our own. The six of us and two sat phones, our only source of communication with the outside world. Tents, food, solar panels, a generator, toolkits to fix anything, a rock drill, the kitchen sink, gorilla tape (like duct tape, but stickier) and even a card game… We’ve hopefully thought of it all.
The intrusion sits within the Arctic Circle. A beautiful, chilly wilderness, which comes with a fair number of hazards: frostbite, sunburn and polar bears, to name but a few. For the frostbite we have very nice outdoor kit (I love buying outdoor kit!), for the sunburn we slap on the factor 50+ and build up a protective layer of grime, and for the bears we have pen flares and rifles.
The last things to pack are our personal items. Much to my family’s horror, six weeks of fieldwork nicely equates to three woolly base layers, two trousers and a lot of coats. Some of the kit needed prepping: moths had eaten one of my woolly tops so out came the needle and thread (year 9 sewing lessons and the running stitch worked a treat) and my new trousers required ‘Greenland Wax’ to be rubbed in and then melted onto the fabric with a hair dryer! They now feel a bit like cardboard, but I’m assured I’ll now be protected from water and wind. For any possible boredom, I have a kindle filled with everything from the classics (free to download!) to trashy teen drama to the Lord of the Rings trilogy which I’ve never got around to reading.
I’m very excited to finally be off to Greenland! Few places are so isolated from everything. It hopefully will be an amazing experience. Time to go find some rock and see some stunning landscape!