Today’s post is by Jason Miszaniec, a PhD student at UC Davis. We sincerely hope that this is the last blog post for a while, but as you will read, we don’t know for sure!
Sometimes there are things that we know that we don’t know. Donald Rumsfeld coined these as “Known Unknowns”. For any Arctic researcher weather is one of these. All the planning in the world cannot account for the unpredictability of Arctic weather. Because the Iita project depends on air travel, clear skies are a must, since clouds and fog can pose a serious risk for pilots when landing. So far the fickle northern weather system has twice wreaked havoc on our well-laid travel plans.
Our first delay was in our flight from the McGuire Air Force Base to the Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. On the morning of June 20th two-thirds of our team (the Bowdoin and Davis components) met up in Philadelphia where we packed into a luxury mini-van and drove to the McGuire Air Base in New Jersey. The University of Greenland contingent (Hans and Nuka) were awaiting our arrival at the Thule Air Force Base.
We left for Thule at 2 am in a large C-17 cargo plane accompanied by a mixture of servicemen/women and independent contractors employed on the base. The C-17 is shorter than typical long-range commercial airliners but has higher ceilings and specializes in landing on short runways. The runway at Thule is being repaired this year and so this is an important characteristic. Passengers were seated along the walls of the plane while the center was reserved for a large amounts of cargo consisting of supplies for the base. The flight was a 5 hour long sleepless journey, and a rather cold one on my end. I regretted not donning a pair of long underwear that seemed excessive in the humid New Jersey heat but would have been welcome on the plane. We arrived over the base on schedule, however after a few failed landing attempts the pilots concluded that cloud cover was too dense, so we were re-routed to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, two hours south of Thule.
At Kangerlussuaq we were put up for the night at the local Polar Bear Inn. Our arrival coincided with Greenland’s national holiday and that afternoon we took part in the local festivities, consisting of live music and a brief but impressive air show. We made a second attempt for Thule the next day. This time after much anticipation a sudden and short THUD echoed throughout the cargo hold indicating that we had landed.
June 22nd marked our first day at the Thule Air Force Base. The plan was to helicopter in to our campsite at Iita on June 23rd …however the weather had other plans. Yesterday (the 23rd) we awoke to low cloudy skies meaning that there would be no travel on that day, however, our helicopter pilot Carl was enthusiastic that we would make it out on Friday (the 24th). After a day of preparing cargo, visiting the Thule Air Force Base museum and dining at the famous TOW (Top of the World) club we were greeted by snow in the evening. What started as a light sprinkling gradually transformed into thick wet snowflakes which continued throughout the night. On the morning of the 24th we found Thule transformed into a true winter wonderland with the snow showing no signs of stopping. The new plan is to hopefully departed on Saturday (25th ).
A successful archaeological field project depends on a combination of rigorous planning and spontaneous flexibility. Despite months of preparation, there are some things (like weather) that cannot be absolutely accounted for, but as the title suggests, this is known and is a reality for Arctic research. We will keep our fingers crossed that the weather clears up and for now we will take in the sights of the Thule Air Force Base. There is a bowling alley on base and I see plenty of gutter balls in my immediate future.