November 5, 2013, by Matt

Summer Geoging … Disko Island, west Greenland

Appropriately for Fieldwork Week Mark Stevenson and Joe Bailey tell us about their summer trip to Greenland…

As part of my doctoral research, I went to Disko Island, west Greenland, in August of this year to continue my research into carbon cycling in Arctic lakes. I was joined by Joe Bailey, who is also a postgraduate student in the School. The summer 2013 research builds on the previous fieldwork in April 2013 which involved collecting sediment cores from ice covered lakes on Disko Island to reconstruct past climate and carbon cycling over the Holocene (~10,700 years).  Now that these sediment cores were known to be safely stored in the School of Geography’s cold store, it was time to head back out to Disko Island.

Getting to Disko Island is not easy or quick.  We first took a flight with all of our field kit and lots of excess luggage to Copenhagen and shortly took an early morning flight to Kangerlussuaq, west Greenland’s main air hub.  We then took a short one hour flight aboard a turbo-prop aircraft which is capable of landing on the short 845m runway at the small town of Ilulissat.  At Ilulissat harbour we boarded a small ‘Diskoline’ ferry for the five hour journey through a myriad of icebergs, to the village of Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island which has only 800 permanent inhabitants.  Our home was the beautiful ‘Arktisk Station’ owned and run by the very hospitable University of Copenhagen.  Ole, the station’s manager, was at the port to meet us and kindly treated us to an Arctic feast with visitors from the University of Copenhagen.


After a day of preparing our field kit we began a gruelling 4 day hike.  This hike involved fording rivers, squelching through mosses and bogs and hiking over gravel and bolder plateaus, but we had the protection of a cabin to rest in at night.  The mosquitos were relentless and our mosquito nets were a necessity.  The first lake lies in an awe-inspiring U-shaped valley called Blæsedalen, meaning ‘windy valley’. The second lake nestles in an over-deepened cirque basin, requiring hiking to an elevation of 575 m.a.s.l.  The views were fantastic, with the change in vegetation succession clearly visible between Blæsedalen and the cirque lake.

Although average winter temperatures are very cold (average -11ºC), the summer temperature on Disko Island (average 7.6ºC) means that the snow had melted during this visit, with Arctic plants in full growth.  At each lake we took water samples for standard measurements (including total phosphate, silicates, anions/ions, dissolved organic carbon) and collected water filter papers for the analysis of lipids and pigments in lake waters.  We then completed a brief hydro-geomorphological survey of each lake and collected soil and plant samples at different elevations. We did several hours’ work at each lake. These catchment samples will help us to understand the results from our sediment cores, making our work more robust as we will be able to relate the current values to past changes.


The highlight of the trip was a boat ride west around Disko Island to visit a lake that is accessible from a beach in Lakesebugt (Salmon Bay).  We were joined by Kathryn Adamson (Queen Mary, University of London) and Timothy Lane (University of Durham) who were investigating glacial meltwater and sediment dynamics on the island, while we repeated our sampling on the third lake.  It was a fantastic experience and an unforgettable place to visit.

You can find out more about our visit by visiting our summer research blog. We would like to thank the university’s Doctoral Training Centre who kindly funded this project using funding from NERC and the ESRC.  If you would like to find out more about our previous April 2013 fieldwork you can visit the INTERACT blog or the NERC Arctic Research Programme website.  A brief video of the sediment coring in April is available on YouTube.

Mark and Joe

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