The expedition frame of mind

We will head to the field in Qaanaaq in late March with various instruments.

Update: It’s official now, I have booked my tickets, we have new instruments to deploy and a colleague and I are working on developing a new programme that we can hopefully also fit in alongside the currently planned programme. More on this at some point no doubt. The countdown has begun and I am getting into that fieldwork frame of mind.

I came across this blog post from old friend and former colleague, Karen Darke, who I’m now more or less out of touch with, unfortunately.

She is just back from her incredible Pole of Possibility expedition in Antarctica and she wrote this which I think perfectly summed up that expedition frame of mind..

It’s a really great blog post and well worth a read of the whole thing.

There are people and places I look forward to again but my soul is already grieving for expedition life, for the dualities that it brings: complexity and simplicity, space and confinement, alone-ness and together-ness, vulnerability and strength, connection and disconnection. I miss waking up huddled closely with my tent-mates and the time skiing silently in big open white-scape. I miss the detailed organisation of kit and systems and the contrasting uncertainty of every hour of every day. I miss feeling small and vulnerable as well as strong and capable. I miss the clear, invented purpose of every day.

Karen Darke, Pole of Possibility
One of those moments on a fieldwork expedition when everyone is busy, drilling holes in the ice to send down a CTD, drilling a sea ice core to measure salinity, digging snow pits, deploying instruments. My DMI colleagues Steffen Olsen and Andrea Gierisch are the ocean and sea ice scientists driving this work in close collaboration with our Greenlandis friends, you can read more about their work here: ..

Our fieldwork expeditions are maybe a bit more frenetic than the pole of possibility has been (in some ways, probably not others). We are always racing against the clock and the weather to get as much work done as possible. We probably cover less distance and there is perhaps less physical stress as the dogs do the hard work of pulling, rather than skiing with human muscles. Nonetheless, there is a constant low-level thrum of thinking, planning, checking. Even if there are also often whole hours, where not much other than travel happens and that are extremely valuable thinking time. (And how often do we get that in the modern world?)

Unlike the Antarctic, working with local people in Greenland means that we also see the landscape as a working place, not just a white desert far away and as Karen writes, how true this is:

It is harder than we anticipated to leave, but Antarctica has been a reminder that we are adaptable, resilient, purpose-seeking, capable humans. No matter how harsh our environment may be, we seem to find ways to connect, collaborate and create ways to not only survive, but to thrive.

On a slightly different note, I had momentarily similar thoughts to Karen on the problem of despoiling the landscape with toilet visits the first time I visited Qaanaaq, before realising that when travelling with 30 dogs (as the local people have always done), the problem is rather moot. But as I have written before, it’s easy to fall into the trap of pristinism in the Arctic. Our work on the Arctic environment is a reminder that it really isn’t. Even in Antarctica, environmental pollutants from lead to microplastics have been found, while the curse of overfishing is almost as visible in the Southern Ocean as in the northerly just as climate change is also taking a toll.

But finally, I also find myself fully agreeing with the last part, because although fieldwork is often cold, uncomfortable, difficult, exhausting, boring and tiresome, it’s also often fascinating, rewarding and exciting. And the experience can change us.

Just as a photograph can’t always capture the profundity of a place or a moment, it is sometimes difficult to find words that describe how something has sculpted us. An experience can impact us so deeply that we don’t immediately know how to translate it for others. And may never

I am immensely privileged to be able to do fieldwork in Greenland and I am extermely grateful for the opportunity to do so.

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