Zackenberg Research Station

by Guest Blogger

July 15, 2005

Standing a short walk from the base, I have a good view of why this

place is unique.

I’m not looking at the snow topped

mountains, arctic flowers, musk ox in the distance or blue water of the

fjord – impressive as all those things are, you can find them in other

Greenland valleys. Instead, I’m looking at the weather station

monitoring temperature, wind speed and direction, precipitation

(intensity and amount), snow depth and other variables.

Dr. Charlotte

Sigsgrd, a physical geographer with the University of Copenhagen

(Denmark), is removing a black memory module where all of this data is

automatically stored. This is her seventh summer at Zackenberg, where an

on-going climate observations and research program – taking place around

the valley, up the mountain sides and down the fjord – is in it’s tenth

year.

It’s this long-term program that makes Zackenberg Research Station such

a special place, but it is also particularly well sited for studying

environmental variations.

Being in the Arctic, which is heating up

almost twice as fast as the global average, the long term effects of

global warming will likely show up here earlier than most places. The

research area is also is amazingly pristine because so few people have

ever been here. This is a remote location in the middle of the world’s

largest national park, and a special permit is needed to even visit.

The only human presence is the station personnel, and visitors with the

small dog sled patrol. Great care is taken by station occupants not to disturb the area. All waste is carefully disposed of,

or shipped out. Glass and metal are separated for recycling. Organic

waste is shredded.

This specific location was also chosen thanks to its combination of

geophysical variables. It is near the interface of the ‘mid-Arctic’ and

the High Arctic regions, which means there are plants unique to both in

the research area. There are two lakes, one with and one without

predatory fish. The research area is snow rich in some parts,

borderline desert in terms of precipitation, and still boggy in spots

due to poor drainage and summer melted permafrost. The area of research

also goes from sea level out in the fjord, to the top of surrounding

mountains.

Physically, it’s strange terrain to walk over – going from dry cracked

earth with practically no vegetation, to boot sucking muck in just a few

hundred steps. We’re too far north for trees or even bushes. The

ground cover is all very low. Lots of moss in the wet areas. There are

also lots of, “Arctic poppies, purple saxifrage, Arctic willow and

cassiope (a type of heather with tiny, needle-like leaves and lovely

white, bell-shaped flowers),” to quote Melanie. Steve, our

photographer, is obsessed with flower pictures – crouching down

constantly to catch them at close range – so expect a flower slideshow

sometime soon.

There is already a scientific consensus that human caused global warming

is a reality. Scientists here and around the world are doing their part

by studying how a changing climate will affect our planet.

– Andrew

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