Climate & Space leads historic expedition to Greenland

Professor Perry Samson and a team of undergraduates and faculty from the University of Michigan, the University at Albany, and Virginia Tech will retrace the steps of a 1926 University of Michigan scientific expedition to Greenland. | Medium Read
  • On the ship "Morrissey" en route to Greenland, 1926. (L ro R) Fergusson, Belknap, Capt. Bartlett, Gould, Hobbs, Oscanyan, Church. Photo courtesy of Bentley Historical Library.
  • Taking an ice sample on the Greenland Ice Sheet, 1926. Prof. Hobbs center. Photo courtesy of Bentley Historical Library.
  • Launching balloon with instrument. Greenland, 1926. Prof. Hobbs center. Photo courtesy of Bentley Historical Library.
  • Taking a break. Greenland, 1926. Prof. Hobbs center. Photo courtesy of Bentley Historical Library.

In 1926, University of Michigan Professor of Geology William Herbert Hobbs led an expedition to Greenland to establish plans for subsequent expeditions to measure the geophysical properties of the island territory.

Now a group of undergraduates and faculty from the University of Michigan, the University at Albany, and Virginia Tech will climb aboard a United States Air Force National Guard LC-130 at Stratton Air National Guard Base on Tuesday, June 18 to begin a 10-day research expedition in Greenland.

Led by Climate & Space Prof. Perry Samson, the 2019 Greenland Expedition for Undergraduate Research, is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs. The expedition will give undergraduate students an opportunity to explore authentic atmospheric and space science issues in Greenland. “We’re going to try and trace the steps of the original Hobbs expedition as much as we’re able,” said Prof. Samson. “In some cases, we will use the same methods to measure atmospheric conditions, in other we will use a range of new and sophisticated techniques including drones to map the conditions on and near the ice sheet.”

The expedition will be based in Kangerlussuaq, a community on the island’s southwestern coast that sits at the terminus of the 170 km long fjord for which it was named. Kangerlussuaq is located north of the Arctic Circle so the team will be working in an environment where the sun will not set while they are there. From base camp, the expedition will venture out over the tundra to conduct experiments near the Greenland Ice Sheet, the second-largest ice sheet on the planet. The group also plans to fly to the NSF-managed Summit Station, a year-round research station at the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet where scientists collect ice cores to determine past climates. The station is approximately 360 km from eastern coast of the island, but its exact coordinates are variable as the ice sheet is constantly in motion.

The 1926 expedition was described in detail in Hobbs’ book, The North Pole of the Winds (1930), and led to some of the first meteorological and geological observations on the island of Greenland. Subsequent expeditions identified the unique characteristics of Greenland climate, including the katabatic winds associated with the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The participating students were selected from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. They will be responsible for a range of experiments including measurements of aerosol concentrations in the Arctic air, energy fluxes from the Sun and Earth, stream flows from glacial runoff, winds aloft using instrumented balloons as well as visual mapping of the ice sheet using multiple drones.

“Williams Hobbs gave us the first real data on the climatic conditions in Greenland. His research has been invaluable in understanding both the regional climate systems in the Arctic, as well as those specific to a glacier environment,” said Prof. Samson.

The measurements the team takes on the 2019 expedition will record a snapshot of the current state of Greenland’s climatic conditions. “Greenland is the canary in the coal mine for climate change,” he said. “But,” he added, “the real success of this project will be the opportunity it affords the students to do authentic studies in a critical environment as I believe ‘science is a contact sport‘ where experiential learning such as this can be life changing.”

The expedition will return to the U.S. on June 28.

You can learn more about the expedition here: https://greenland.engin.umich.edu/

 


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