Five of us from the ship were dropped off by the old hunting station. We were eager to see a little of the countryside.

The scenery reminded Melanie of back home, but that's only because she lives in Alaska. For me, this trip is the farthest I've ever been north, and it brings new sights almost daily.

Line Anker Kyhn, a Master's student in biology with the National Environmental Research Institute (Denmark) and our temporary guide, was waiting on the shore. She told us about her work, lemmings, polar bears, and how it was a little surprising to see a ship in the fjord at this time of year. She was right, it was unusual.

We had bet there would be less sea ice than the historical average - and we'd been right. Possibly just luck on our part, but we think more likely another example of global warming at work.

River crossing

At the river, Line turned us over to Henrik Philipsen, Logistics Manager/Base Commander (aka Philip 'the campground manager' as he his jokingly called), and returned to her work.

The river, fed by melting snow and ice, was fast moving and dangerously cold. The crossing procedure involved a tiny grey dingy, a steel cable, a blue rope, some carabineers, a pulley, a harness and a life jacket. Fortunately, it wasn't nearly as complicated as it looked, and we all made it to the other side without incident.

There I met another member of the logistics team, Marc Overgaard Hansen. Last year Marc was the station's cook. This year he is an all purpose handyman and rescuer (if ever needed). In between seasons, Marc is a Master's student in Physical Geography, and in his spare time here he tries to work out a way to sample snow density over the winter.

They've got good data for snow coverage, and a bit on snow depth - but the density of the stuff (which can vary with temperature, etc.) is a missing piece of the puzzle.

Base tour

After our successful river crossing, Philip gave us the grand tour. There are six main buildings (all painted "musk ox blue"), which house the store room, some accommodation, laboratories, showers (two), kitchen, mess and radio room. For safety, everyone leaving the base takes a VHF radio, and the radio sign-out sheet doubles as a log of who's in the field. With the base antenna, and a repeater that was placed by helicopter on a nearby mountain, the whole valley is covered. It's like having a cell phone, except that everyone in range hears your conversation.

There are also six tents, used for storage, workspace and living quarters (two bunks per tent). The best part of the tour was the unscheduled appearance of an arctic fox (while we were being shown the toilets). It was probably trying to sneak into camp to look for food, but would have been out of luck anyway. All the food and garbage is kept well secured. They don't want to change the diet of these opportunistic animals, or have them grow accustomed to finding food here. The curious foxes even nibble at pipe insulation and wiring to see if it's edible.

The only ground transportation (aside from a mountain bike) is a little amphibious eight wheeler. It's powered by an 18hp engine, and can cross land, snow, ice and water. Smiling, Philip told us how when the Danish queen visited, he was her "royal chauffeur". They keep the driving to a minimum though, and stick to the established track, because it's hard on the vegetation.

Fortuitously enough, our tour ended back at building one, which houses the mess and kitchen, just in time for lunch.


Food is an important aspect of life in an isolated place like this. The researchers sometimes work together, but spend much of their time alone out in the field. Meals and even the clean up afterwards are an important social event. Today, eight people - almost everyone - joined us for lunch.

Toke Thomas Høye, a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen, is out counting musk ox. He won't be back until 3:00 the next morning. This is not uncommon since the staff here often work long hours under the never setting sun. Each one has a research program to follow, and sometimes their own side projects on top of that.

They know what a rare opportunity it is to be in a place like this, and take maximum advantage of it. For entertainment there is movie night twice weekly, a volleyball net strung between the flagpoles and a BBQ behind the mess building.

But, the general consensus is that on the rare occasion they get free time, the preferred way of using it is to, "walk to the top of something." Generally though, their only days off are when weather conditions keep them from doing their work.

How to get here

Everyone has their own story about how they ended up working here, but my favorite is Ulrik Nielsen's - he found his logistics job through the unemployment office. Not too bad. But don't be fooled. Zackenberg Research Station is an understandably popular place to work, with very few vacancies.

If you're a researcher, the biggest barrier to working here will likely be funding. On top of transporting yourself and your gear, just staying at the station costs 800 Danish Kronar (about $120 USD) per day due to the remoteness of the place. Plus, you'll need to convince the Danish Polar Center of your qualifications, and the merit of your research.

There's also heavy competition for the non-researcher jobs. This year they had only two open positions - logistics and cook. Ulrik (an Able Bodied sailor) and Malene (who has a Bachelor of Nutrition and Home Economics) had to compete for these jobs with about 200 other applicants. To get here, you need to really want to be here. So, it's no surprise that despite the long hours, mosquitoes, shared rooms, and isolation - nobody seems in a hurry for the summer work-season to end.

- Andrew