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1,000 km north of the Polar Circle: U of M’s Arctic field research

at the Zackenberg station in Daneborg

June 13, 2014 — 

The U of M’s Søren Rysgaard, Canada Excellence Research Chair and professor in the department of geological sciences and part of U of M’s Centre for Earth Observation Science (CEOS), will spend a good deal of the spring and summer doing fieldwork at the Zackenberg station in Daneborg, NE Greenland (74N). Rysgaard is part the first team in this year’s comprehensive field campaign in the Arctic Science Partnership collaboration, with ongoing work in several places this year with more than one hundred scientists and students in the field at Zackenberg, Daneborg, Nuuk, Disko Bay, Cambridge Bay, Resolute, Hudson Bay, and onboard the Canadian research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen in the Canadian North.

The Centre for Earth Observation Science opened at U of M in 1994. Arctic Science is a major research focus of the centre; it studies the physical, chemical, biological, and human systems of the Canadian and Cirumpolar Arctic.

The Arctic Science Partnership is a Memorandum of Understanding was signed at a meeting in Nuuk on June 8, 2012 between the Aarhus University, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the University of Manitoba. Its vision is to be a leading consortium on climate, cryosphere, ecosystems, and human interactions through research, monitoring and education.

Rysgaard wrote a fascinating first-person report on his time there this spring.


daneborg 2

May 13, 2014

We are approximately 1000 km north of the Polar Circle.

Spring is getting here even though the temperature is -15C. Small flocks of snow bunting are arriving and today we spotted the first barnacle geese. There is a lot of snow this year and in some places you can walk directly onto the roofs of the buildings. Actually, several places you have to dig a tunnel to get into the buildings. The fjord is in some locations covered by up to a meter of snow that overlies a meter plus of sea ice. The sun is shining from a clear blue sky and for days there has been no wind whatsoever. Seals are emerging on the sea ice enjoying the return of the sun. Everything is quiet as it can only be up here.

We are back at fieldwork. Our team will concentrate on snow and sea ice and how it interacts with the atmosphere and ocean.

Last autumn we deployed several moorings collecting various parameters in the atmosphere (irradiance, temperature, wind speed direction, carbon dioxide concentration etc.), snow (thickness, temperature), sea ice (thickness, temperature, salinity, permeability etc) and ocean (temperature, salinity and currents, irradiance, turbidity etc). Several of these transmit their data via satellite. Unfortunately, we lost contact with one of the ocean mooring positions during winter. We have now localized all moorings, but one is missing.

The area outside Young Sound is interesting because of the presence of a polynya. A polynya is a site where sea ice is produced and frequently blown away from the area thereby allowing new ice to form again. It is a kind of sea ice fabric. There are different kinds of polynyas but this one is a wind-driven one. The function of a polynya and its influence on deep-water formation and greenhouse gas exchange between the atmosphere and ocean are not well understood. In order to obtain the expected signal in the water column (cold and more salty water) we need to be close to the site of the polynya. Unfortunately this mooring was too close. It is irritating as sea ice broke off just 100-200 m inside the mooring position. We hope to find it when the sea ice melts in the fjord.

We have started to recover the other moorings and download data. We will deploy them again and capture the signal of the melting sea ice as we approach the summer thaw.  It is going to be a wet season due to all the snow and the scientists following us need to bring rubber boots and other waterproof clothes when working on the melting sea ice cover. The idea is to study melt ponds as they develop and disappear just before the sea ice breaks up.  On this leg, scientists are characterizing snow and ice texture, gas content, biological and chemical processes. In addition, we collect measurements from across and along the fjord from the Greenland Ice Sheet into the Greenland Sea in order to understand the variation of snow and ice thickness and its interaction with the atmosphere and ocean and to provide data for up scaling.

We also cover measurements in the water column below the sea ice to the sea floor.  It is a hard work to make these graphs; our transects extend for hundred of kilometers and each site ( 2-3 km apart) involves clearing 30-100 cm snow, drilling through meter thick sea ice, setting up a tripod to get our instruments into the water without freezing and then by lowering it (by hand) down to the sea floor that is 350 m deep in some places. We are operating from skidoos inside the fjord, but have also airboats that can fly over snow, ice and open water when melting advances.

Days are long in the field. We start early and work often to midnight. Often there are long evenings in the laboratory here in Daneborg. And just before going to sleep, notes have to be made and the day’s data saved. People are looking tired in the evenings but it is difficult to get to bed as the sun is up day and night.

We take turns in the kitchen and right now it smells of fresh baked bread. Time is 1 am and people are still working. Looking around the table we have people from Greenland, Canada, Denmark, Russia, India, Belgium. What a team!

See here for more information on the Arctic Science Partnership and the 2014 Young Sound Campaign.


Glacial ice trapped in sea ice.

Glacial ice trapped in sea ice.


Polar Regions play a vital role in the global climate system. Past and on-going climatic changes are amplified at high-latitude areas. Current climate change, associated with large-scale anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, results in a dramatic warming of the Arctic leading to sea ice retreat, melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost. These processes are not only causing changes in the Arctic systems but will also have implications globally. Despite the urgency and importance of addressing problems posed by climate change, we have only fragmentary understanding of the coupling of atmospheric processes, particle and cloud formation, sea ice retreat, glacial melt, permafrost thaw and biogeochemical processes. Current models predicting climate change and its cascading effects on ecosystem and society suffer tremendously from this lack of understanding.

The aim of this program is to provide this scientific knowledge. Only by providing integrated measurements and scientific understanding of the feedback mechanisms it is possible to make realistic assessments of regional and global impact and, consequently, map and implement adaptation needs in society.


Project Description

The Zackenberg, Daneborg and Cambridge Bay research stations are ideally located to address these atmosphere-cryosphere-land-ocean feedback mechanisms and impacts on ecosystems and the climate system.

The major scientific challenges to be addressed are:

  • Effect of warming and sea ice retreat on atmospheric particle and cloud dynamics.
  • Effect of sea ice biogeochemical processes on gas exchange between the atmosphere, and deeper ocean.
  • Coupling between sea ice retreat and land based abiotic and biotic processes.
  • Ocean-glacier interactions.
  • Effect of increased runoff from land on ocean circulation
  • Effects of reduced ice cover and altered ocean circulation on biological production, biogeochemistry and greenhouse gas exchange.
  • Impacts of warming on High-Arctic biodiversity and ecosystem services.

An interdisciplinary scientific team using state-of-the-art assessment techniques in a comprehensive four-pronged approach of laboratory, ice tank, in situ, and modeling studies will carry out the project. Combining laboratory experiments simulating atmospheric processes, experimental ice tank and in situ studies will provide important new insight into the regulation of atmosphere-snow-ice-land-ocean processes, their seasonal and geographical distribution, and their variation over geological time through paleoclimatic proxies in lakes and seafloor.



Unknown-6David Babb is a M.SC student in physical geography who also just returned from the Zackenberg Research Station in Daneborg, NE Greenland (74N). There, he participated in the 2014 Young Sound field campaign, a research  initiative of the Arctic Science Partnership that involves researchers and graduate students from U of M, Denmark (Aarhus University), Greenland (Greenland Institute of Natural Resources).

His project is a case study on the seasonal transition of geophysical parameters of different ice types in Young Sound, on the northeast coast of Greenland.

He says that what he enjoys many things about field research. “I enjoy the adventure of working in remote places in sometimes harsh conditions and studying something that perhaps nobody has studied before.” he says.He also likes it because “it relies upon team work, whether it’s helping someone with their work or cooking dinner/reheating dinner for people who have been out on the ice all day, its important that everyone pitches in.”I also believe that scientifically its important to go to the field and get your hands wet/cold as you try and take notes or collect samples,” he adds. “I guess you could say it makes you appreciate the data more and provides more context than just looking at a dataset on your computer.”

Read more about his part in the 2014 Young Sound Campaign.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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