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SCIENCE NEWS FROM THE ARCTIC Published by: The Greenlandic Society L. E. Bruunsvej 10, 2920 Charlottenlund, Denmark Tel.: +45 3026 8090


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Editorial board: Einar Lund Jensen, responsible under the press law Uffe Wilken, editor Poul-Erik Philbert, journalist Design & App: Spagat design & Cadpeople A/S Cover: Scientific diving on the mineral columns of Ikka Fjord. Photo: Jesper Kikkenborg

DNA from some 10,000 years

The polar bear’s response to climate change

old polar bear bones from a museum in St. Petersburg are playing an important role in a new environmental project. Photo: Tina Brand

Researchers fear that the polar bear will have serious problems as the sea ice in the Arctic melts. But the projections are based on shortterm data and a group of geneticists will now examine how similar climate change has previously affected the evolution of the polar bear.

For good reasons, it is not easy to find bone fragments of old polar bears. The polar bear lives and dies on the sea ice and their earthly remains sink to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

Tucked away in the storerooms This is why geneticist Eline Lorenzen from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen was so full of enthusiasm when it came to her notice that, at a museum in St. Petersburg, there was a collection of 10,000 year old, prehistoric polar bear bones tucked away in the storerooms. They had been gathering dust there for many years after having been found in the 1980s in a midden during an archaeological excavation on the New Siberian Islands. The 10,000 year old bones have since been brought to the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen, where DNA material has been extracted from them in the laboratories.

An evolutionary perspective The old polar bear bones are so valuable for Eline Lorenzen and her colleagues because they can deliver the DNA material that will help to reveal whether earlier climate change has affected the polar bear genetically. “The polar bear is now assessed as an endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). The assessment is based on an assumption about how climate change will affect the polar bear, but is reliant on data that extends no more than 20-30, maybe 50, years back,” explains Eline Lorenzen. “We would like to approach the problem in a longer evolutionary perspective, that is, over thousands of years, and look back to earlier climate changes that are very similar to those waiting in the future. And our question is: How did the polar bear respond to the changes back then?”

A scientific answer

Eline Lorenzen

It is in particular a period 6,000–8,000 years ago that interests the researchers. Back then, it was so warm that large parts of Greenland’s sea ice melted and the southern border of the summer ice was 1,000 km further north than today. It was a climate that is very similar to that which climate scientists predict will become a reality in the coming decades. Geneticists have the genomes of the 10,000 year old Russian bears and of living polar bears, so by comparing the genetic diversity before and after the climate period in question 6,000–8,000 years ago, they expect to be able to determine whether there has been a climatic response within the polar bear in the warmer climate. As Eline Lorenzen puts it: “This study will provide the first concrete evidence of how the polar bear has managed to get through climate change in earlier periods. For the first time, it will enable us to give a scientific answer to how the species will react to global warming in the future. Will the polar bear become extinct or is it a misunderstanding generated by popular science?” Poul-Erik Philbert

From Brown Bear to White Bear Photo: Uffe Wilken

It has now been firmly established that the polar bear and the brown bear are two different species. An international research team with Danish participation has analysed the genome of the polar bear and discovered that it has evolved into a separate species within the last 100,000 years. The researchers have also discovered several important genes which enable the polar bear to survive on an extremely fat diet.


o one is likely to just confuse a polar bear with a brown bear. It is also commonly known that the two bears live a very different life. The polar bear migrates on the ice in the High Arctic, where it manages on an eye-catchingly monotonous, high-fat diet consisting primarily of seals. The brown bear keeps to wooded areas and feeds on fish, small animals, berries and insects. Nevertheless, it has until comparatively recently been universally accepted in biological circles that the polar bear and the brown bear belonged to the same species, and that the polar bear was really just a brown bear that was white. This position was strengthened by the fact that a polar bear and a brown bear can mate and produce offspring. This was also what Eline Lorenzen, a post-doctoral researcher and geneticist, learned when she was studying biology a few years ago at the University of Copenhagen. But now, as part of an international research team from the University of California, Berkeley, the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen and BGI-Shenzen in China, she has quite recently helped to pull the rug out from under this part of our childhood learning by establishing that the polar bear is a separate species.

Two different species Part of the explanation for previous genetic testing having shown that we were dealing with a single species is that researchers limited themselves to examining the mitochondrial DNA (mitochondrial genome) and not the nuclear DNA (nuclear genome). The mitochondria is much faster and easier to work with, but only contains DNA information from the mother and therefore draws a simplified genetic picture. If the nuclear DNA, which contains DNA from both the father and the mother, is included, such large genetic differences are revealed that researchers can now determine that we are dealing with two species. “We were very surprised when we got the result,” says Eline Lorenzen. “We actually didn’t really believe it and we

spent a couple of weeks systematically searching for faults in our analyses. But it simply turned out that we were dealing with two separate species.” And then something happened that would bring a dark cloud over every ambitious research project: another research team published an article with the same conclusions. “Three weeks later, an article with exactly the same conclusions was published in the journal Science. It was really annoying! We’d been sitting with these enormous amounts of data for two and a half years – two and a half years! – and been working hard all the time, and we had worked with 100 individual polar bears, where we had mapped the entire genome of 20,000 genes. The others had only mapped 14 genes – and they go and get a cover of Science. I know it must sound ridiculous to a lot of people, but having a cover page is something which is incredibly important to us,” says Eline Lorenzen with a self-deprecating grin.

Photo: Rune Dietz

Rapid evolution Yet another research team came out with an article on the subject two months later, but it turned out that, while there was agreement on the polar bear being a separate species, the three teams basically disagreed about how long it had been separate. One group had calculated that the splitting of the polar bear from the brown bear had happened 600,000 years ago; the second that it had happened between 4 and 5 million years ago. And on this point, Eline Lorenzen and her colleagues had a different estimate: “What we know for sure is that there was already something resembling a modern polar bear 110,000 years ago,” she says. “That is knowledge we have from an old jaw bone found on Svalbard and which has been dated at 110,000 years old. At the same time, isotopic analysis of the bone has shown that the bear has survived on food from the sea like the contemporary polar bear.” By comparing DNA from the two bears, Eline Lorenzen’s research group has also calculated mathematically that the genetic split between the polar bear and the brown bear took place 500,000 years ago at the earliest. “So the specialisation of the polar bear as a separate species must have happened within the space of 200,000 to 300,000 years, which is tremendously fast from an evolutionary point of view and makes the polar bear one of the newest species in the world among the large mammals.”

From brown to white Eline Lorenzen believes that the polar bear has developed the ability to live in the Arctic region so quickly because, at some point in time, it was subjected to strong pressures to adapt to some completely new conditions. 400,000-500,000 years ago, Earth experienced a long, warm interglacial period, which may have got the brown bear, among other species, to look north towards the Arctic Circle. When the cold and the ice returned, it can be imagined that the brown bears went south again to warmer climates, but

About the study Researchers have mapped both the brown bear and the polar bear genomes – 20,000 genes for each species. Their analyses included blood and tissue samples from 79 Greenland polar bears and 10 brown bears from Sweden, Finland and Alaska. The polar bear samples were collected by Rune Dietz and Christian Sonne from Aarhus University and by Erik Born from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. The project was a collaboration between researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen, and BGIShenzen in China. The project was led by Jun Wang of BGI-Shenzen in China.

that a group was isolated in the Arctic cold and had to adapt to the new environment if it was to survive. The researchers have therefore been looking for the genes that may be a result of the selection pressures that the bear’s new life in Arctic surroundings forced upon it. “We have mapped the 20,000 genes in the polar bear and the brown bear respectively and searched for those genes that are most different in the two bears and that have been under the greatest selection process in the polar bear,” says Eline Lorenzen. “We also searched for genes where there is a great variation in the brown bear but no variation in the polar bear. A gene which has been under a strong selection process has only a few variations that are good enough, you see.”

A cool life on fat The researchers have particularly focused on mapping the genes that make the polar bear able to cope with a lifelong fatty diet without being affected by cardiovascular disease. “A polar bear is dependent on fat. Nursing cubs drink the polar bear mother’s milk, which can contain up to 30% fat, and adult bears feed mainly on seals, which are extremely fatty. Polar bears have large fat deposits under the skin which can be up to 11 centimetres thick, and since they live in a polar desert without access to fresh water for most of the year, they are dependent on the water that is a by-product of the breaking down of fat; like camels, where the fat in their humps gets transformed into water.” It is therefore not surprising that the researchers have found in their mapping of the 20,000 genes that half of the 20 genes which have been under the strongest selection pressure in the polar bear have something to do with the transport of fat in the blood and with the metabolism of fatty acids. “Here we have the genes which have probably been totally decisive for the polar bear being able to adapt to a new niche in the High Arctic,” says Eline Lorenzen. “And it’s interesting to see that the species can live with such a high fat intake and so much blood cholesterol. Corresponding values ​in man would give many cardiovascular problems and

atherosclerosis. We can see that many genes associated with cardiovascular disease have been under tremendous selection pressure. This may explain the adjustment to very fatty food.” Among the 20 genes that have been under the strongest selection pressure in the polar bear is the LYST gene that is involved with pigmentation and might be able to explain the polar bear’s white coat, which arises from a lack of pigment grains in the hair.

In the right place The researchers have used samples from several places. The samples of the brown bear are from bears killed in Sweden, Finland and Alaska and the blood and tissue samples of polar bears come from Greenland and have been collected from their colleagues at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University. Eline Lorenzen has been out herself collecting samples with colleagues from Aarhus University and speaks enthusiastically about the field work. But unfortunately it doesn’t fill much of the combined work. “We bring the samples back to Copenhagen and process them in the DNA laboratory at the Centre for GeoGenetics. It’s such boring work! When I became a biologist, I wanted to go out and do a lot of field work. I’ve since found out that two days field work is followed by two years of work in the laboratory, and you subsequently take a few years to analyse the data. So it isn’t at all as I’d imagined. I should have been an ecologist instead of a geneticist,” she says with a laugh. It may well be that there is a lot of routine laboratory work, but it is very difficult to believe that Eline Lorenzen may be regretting her choice of genetic research. She is already talking enthusiastically about the next project, in which she will study the impact of climate change on the polar bear. And then having the front page of the journal Cell has probably been a plaster on the wound. Poul-Erik Philbert

Eline Lorenzen Read the article in Cell

Listen to Eline Lorenzen’s lecture at the Academy of Sciences: Genetic mapping of the polar bear (evolutionary) story (in Danish)

Ikka columns with sea anemones and sea urchins. In the background, diver Jens Larsen is taking measurements with small test probes directly into the ikaite precipitates.

Photo: Jesper Kikkenborg

Unknown microscopic life under extreme conditions Despite several expeditions to the mineral pillars of South Greenland’s Ikka Fjord, the green water still hides many puzzles. A research team has recently visited the fjord with sophisticated underwater equipment to measure the millimetre-small differences in the chemistry inside the columns.


f you stick your head below the surface in the Ikka Fjord, you will see beautiful white limestone pillars of the mineral ikaite, where sea urchins, sea cucumbers and sea anemones seem to be living a peaceful life. If you swim a little closer, you will in some places see faint green splotches and other places even dark green holes from which fresh water from the mountains flows out. They look like small reeking chimneys, where the light freshwater veils the spectacle as it meets the heavy salty seawater. The green colours are due to microscopic life that scientists believe are unknown and unique.

Millimetre by millimetre In spite of relatively weak light for most of the year, there is a clear, green band on the upper 5-8 metres of the columns and about 0.5-2 cm inside the ikaite. It consists of microalgae and bacteria that have colonised a really unique and extreme environment. These small fry live in conditions that would be uninhabitable for most other organisms: very low light for photosynthesis, a pH that ranges from 8 to 11, a water composition which goes from fresh to salt and low temperatures. To survive here, the micro-organisms have to develop very specific life strategies. As yet, we know very little about the life forms that colonise the fresh ikaite and what biochemical adaptations they have made to thrive in the harsh conditions. Both new bacteria and special coldactive enzymes have previously been isolated from the Ikka columns, but it has mostly been from inside the columns and from their older parts. The conditions and the organisms in the fresh ikaite represent yet another white patch on the scientific map. In order to study the living conditions of the organisms, biologists have measured temperature, oxygen, light and pH from the outside and across their growth zone up to 2 cm deep in the columns. It is a challenge to do this under water directly on the columns, so scientists have been using sophisticated measuring equipment fitted with small test probes. During a profile measurement, a research diver guides the probe gradually, in millimetre-small stages, deep-

The Ikka Fjord one beautiful,

An underwater garden of columns in South Greenland The Ikka Fjord is located in South-West Greenland, a good hour by boat from Ivittuut and the former Naval Station at Grønnedal. In an area of a few square kilometres in the inner part of the fjord, up to 1,000 columns of the rare mineral ikaite grow up through the bottom of the fjord. The fjord and its underwater columns have been the subject of extensive research since the mid-1990s and the Greenland Government protected the fjord in May 2000.

still morning with the Coral Hut in the foreground. Photo: Erik Trampe

er and deeper into the column. By carrying out many of these measurements, scientists can form a detailed overview of the physical and chemical conditions in the outer layers of the columns.

Anchored in mucus The photosynthetic microbes in the Ikka columns use light as an energy source and produce oxygen as a by-product. With yet another specially developed underwater metre, the biologists measured the ability of the microbes to exploit the light they receive inside the columns. The measurements showed that there is very active photosynthesis and an effective use even of the small amounts of light they get. So it is no wonder that divers see oxygen bubbles oozing out of the ikaite when they are scraping in the upper layers on a sunny day. The question is: what kinds of micro-organisms are doing this work? For a closer look at the microbes, the biologists from the Department of Biology at the University of Copenhagen took some ikaite samples back with them. They have succeeded in cultivating more of them in the laboratory and found that fibrous, unicellular cyanobacteria, also known as “blue-green algae�, dominate, along with yellowish-brown diatoms. The microbes sit anchored in mucus that they excrete themselves. Perhaps these organisms and the mucus play a central role in the formation of the columns. To gain a better understanding of this interaction and the function between the organisms and the putting together of the ikaite, researchers undertook very detailed electron and light microscopy, which, among other things, revealed mucous substances deposited between the crystals. Biologists are now in the process of describing the cyanobacteria and diatoms they have isolated and cultivated based on their DNA signature and microscopic structures. The researchers are collaborating on this with one of the world’s leading experts in cyanobacteria from the University of Oregon, who thinks that there are several new and unique cyanobacteria among the samples isolated. Erik Trampe

See video of Scientific diving on the mineral columns of the Ikka Fjord.

A) Cross section of an Ikka column showing green areas with cyanobacteria

and yellowish areas with diatoms inside the ikaite.

B) Photo of fibrous cyanobacteria surrounded by ikaite crystals. C) Coloured electron microscopy image of the fibrous cyanobacteria

in green, other bacteria in yellow, mucus in pink and a particular

cyanobacterium of the genus Spirulinaceae in blue.

DNA studies provide new knowledge about Greenland’s pre-history International researchers with Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics in the forefront have mapped the earliest migration waves to Alaska, Canada and Greenland genetically. The new findings are a challenge to archaeologists.

Researcher looking for remnants of prehistoric people in northern Greenland.

Photo: Claus Andreasen.


reenland has been populated by genetically the same group of Palaeo-Eskimos for more than 4,000 years. This dramatic result was published in August in the respected journal, Science. An international research team, led by Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, gives an account here of their studies of preserved human DNA material from ancient cultures in the Arctic. The material has been compared with analyses of contemporary Arctic people.

Three large migration waves The study identifies three separate migration waves from Siberia to America and the Arctic: first came the ancestors of the Native American population, then the Palaeo-Eskimos and finally the ancestors of today’s Inuit (the Thule culture in Greenland). They all in fact arise from the same gene pool. But the Palaeo-Eskimos were the first to populate the Arctic regions and thus Greenland. It happened about 4,500 years ago, as evidenced by archaeological finds from the Thule region, among others. For it was here that the first Palaeo-Eskimos arrived from Canada and established the earliest Greenland settlements. From here, they migrated on down the coast and settled several areas of the huge island. These Palaeo-Eskimo settlements and their object materials have been studied by archaeologists since the mid-1900s. The wide variation in flint technology, tools and hunting techniques has suggested that several cultures and different people were present. This has given cause for perceiving the Saqqaq culture (2400-800 BC) and the Dorset culture (about 800 BC to 1300 CE) as separate. But the DNA results hammer a stake through that theory: “The new DNA results are absolute, so we archaeologists just have to accept them and take them into consideration and into our knowledge about Greenland’s pre-history. The results dispose of some theories about changes in the material culture, such as those between Saqqaq and

See video of Professor Eske Willerslev and PhD Maanasa Raghavan speak about the research results.

A common type of tool among Neolithic peoples are the so-called burins, a kind of universal tool to scrape or smooth surfaces, for example, bones and antlers. Archaeologists have demonstrated clear differences in the production of burins in the Saqqaq and Dorset peoples. In the Saqqaq culture, the burin’s etching edge was sharpened by pressing with a flaking tool, which left pronounced marks (Fig. 1). While in the Dorset culture, the burin’s edge was ground, which also leaves marks on the surface of the stone (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Drawing of a Saqqaq burin

Figure 2. Dorset burin

Figure 3. Saqqaq burin and scraper

In addition, the Saqqaq and Dorset materials differ from each other in the attachment of flint blades and tips to a shaft. In the Saqqaq culture, blades and tips have a ‘pincer’ for fixing to the shaft (Fig. 3), while in the Dorset culture, they are provided with a lashing notch for attachment (Fig. 4). The flint technological principles of the Saqqaq culture are found westwards near the Bering Strait, while those of the Dorset culture appear in the eastern Arctic north-east of the Hudson Bay and in Greenland Figure 4. Dorset knife blades and lance heads

Dorset. But it doesn’t change the fact that they have taken place. For although we now know that these people were genetically the same all the way through, some significant changes and breaks with tradition took place during the 4,000 years of Palaeo-Eskimo presence. It has hitherto been self-evident to explain these changes with the emergence of new people. But when this is not the case, then what?” asks Hans Christian Gulløv, a senior researcher from the National Museum, who is also co-author of the Science article.

The bow and the kayak disappeared The Dorset culture’s emergence rather inexplicably gave rise to the disappearance of hunting with bow and arrow. The bow simply vanished from the archaeological material, and didn’t reappear until thousands of years later. Dog bones and ribs for kayaks are found in Saqqaq settlements. But they also disappeared from the find material when the Dorset culture appeared. These are in fact radical changes in a period in which the population group is the same. With these DNA results, archaeologists are left with more questions than answers, and they must now seek other explanations for the cultural shift. Hans Christian Gulløv continues: “We can only take this as a professional challenge and get the genetic results and the archaeological material to work together, because they both consist of absolute facts. It is just that one is based in scientific research and the other in humanistic research. So we archaeologists must try to find out what was going on in the minds of the Palaeo-Eskimos. Why they did what they did. “Because even though the Palaeo-Eskimos have lived isolated from a genetic point of view, things have obviously happened that have influenced the material culture and perhaps their mindset, values and traditions.”

Barter exchange without genetic exchange Trade is a good bet. Finds of objects from, for example, the

What happened to the Palaeo-Eskimos? About 700 years ago, the Palaeo-Eskimos disappeared from Greenland. Why is not known with certainty and the new DNA results do not give the answer either. But the time of their disappearance coincides with the increasing spread of the Inuit. So perhaps the technologically superior Thule culture squeezed the Palaeo-Eskimos out. Perhaps it was because of diseases being introduced. The PalaeoEskimos live on though in Greenlandic Inuit myths as the legendary ‘Tunit’ people so the two people must have known each other.

late Dorset culture and the early Thule culture indicate that the two groups have been present at the same time over a long period. The Norsemen who came to Greenland in the late 10th century are also represented in these object meetings. So there have been exchanges between the different groups. But they have apparently not exchanged genes, and that amazes both the DNA researchers and the archaeologists: “Meetings between people resulting in biological offspring is something that has happened before in world history. But that is clearly not the case here. Why is not known, but it’s a really interesting question,” says Hans Christian Gulløv. So there are quite a few questions to address around the earliest periods of Greenland’s history. Many answers seem to lie somewhere between hardcore scientific research and hardcore humanistic research. The DNA researchers are demonstrating homogeneity in the Palaeo-Eskimo genetic material, while the archaeologists are demonstrating variation and divergence in the object material produced by the same Palaeo-Eskimos. As Hans Christian Gulløv points out, “One and the same people can naturally get new ideas and develop their tools and modify hunting practices and lifestyle. But some changes in Greenland’s pre-history seem very radical. So even though the Science article has been published in collaboration between scientists and archaeologists, it is us who are now left with the task of finding the cause of the documented cultural changes.” So there is some way to go to establish a final statement of the first 4,000 years of Greenland’s history. But with further research and new finds, we can hopefully get closer to an understanding of the Palaeo-Eskimo era. Josephine Schnohr

Spread of HIV in Greenland The HIV infection has been known in Greenland since 1984-1985. A scientific detective work with journals, data registers and DNA analysis now documents how many times HIV has been introduced into Greenland and that only one of the introductions gave rise to an epidemic. An article from a new PhD thesis explains how this epidemic originated and spread. This new knowledge is ground-breaking and can help us to understand and prevent epidemics elsewhere in the world.


he syndrome which would later become known as AIDS was first described in 1981 and the HIV virus was discovered in 1983. A few years later, the infection was found in Greenland for the first time. But even though the disease was brought into Greenland at least 25 times in the period 1984-2011, it is a single introduction around 1986, which accounts for almost half of those subsequently infected, in what so far is Greenland’s only HIV epidemic. In their material, researchers can specifically monitor how the epidemic was introduced from Denmark by a homosexual infected man. The infection spread quite quickly though to the heterosexual population, just as it went from settlement to town (Nuuk and Sisimiut) and then propagated most strongly in one of the most vulnerable social groups. In addition, researchers can see that HIV has been brought to Greenland on at least 24 other occasions. None of these occasions caused an epidemic though.

An epidemiological puzzle New molecular biological methods and a good set of data made it possible for researchers to study the development of the epidemic. Christian Bruhn, a PhD student from the Centre for GeoGenetics at Copenhagen University, says: “There has been a large volume of research into the spreading of HIV in Greenland, and it has been known for some time that there was an infection group that dominated the spreading of the infection in Greenland. In this study, we connect all the pieces of the epidemiological puzzle and add some crucial new pieces in order to build a remarkably detailed picture. It has been necessary to gather all the material together, the published and the unpublished, and furthermore to analyse old blood samples from older archives with new genetic analysis in order to get that far. The fact that Greenland is an isolated island with a small population and a good health service has also been a prerequisite for being able to follow the epidemic from the first person who introduced it forward over three decades. As far as I know, there are no other cases where it has been possible to do that

for HIV. That is what makes the study interesting in terms of understanding how HIV has spread globally.”

Indirect route from Africa to Greenland The HIV virus is found in genetic subtypes like A, B, C, etc., which originally spread out from Central Africa. In southern Africa, for example, subtype C predominates. Christian Bruhn explains the perspective of the researchers’ work: “Part of the scoop in our study is that we describe a concrete example of a so-called ‘founding event’. It has long been concluded that the reason why individual subtypes can dominate entire regions must be that it is a single introduction by a person with precisely that particular subtype that has been the root of the entire subsequent regional epidemic. The introduction by this person is therefore referred to as a “founding event” because it founds the epidemic. The person’s HIV subtype thereby determines the subtype of the entire regional epidemic – at least until a new ‘founding event’ occurs in the area. In Greenland, we are therefore able to describe exactly how it happened in a region. To do the same in southern Africa, for example, would be impossible. In Greenland, it is a subtype B introduction which founded the epidemic. This is because of connections to Denmark. Subtype B came from Africa to the Caribbean, then onward to the United States and Western Europe, including Denmark; and from there to Greenland. Understanding how an introduction becomes a ‘founding event’ is thus fundamental to understanding how HIV has spread globally. The study shows precisely that it is difficult for HIV to establish itself, and therefore it is even more important to understand what happens when a single introduction grows into an epidemic.” In their material on the epidemic, the researchers have also found indications that some of the recent patients in the study are a generation younger than the typical epidemic group. Even though the incidence of new HIV cases is currently low in Greenland, it is worth paying attention to whether this implies a further shift in the spread of the epidemic, as Christian Bruhn puts it.

An efficient, finely-meshed network Allan Gelvan is a consultant at Dronning Ingrids Hospital, Nuuk. He does not think that one can speak of an epidemic. He says: “In Greenland today, we have 63 HIV-infected people out of a population of 63,000, so I don’t know if you can call that an epidemic. The figure is stable and doesn’t change much. There is a case here and there – demographically it is similar to what we see in Denmark.” There are three things Allan Gelvan points to as the reason for the stable level. First of all, a great effort has been made to provide information on how HIV infects people. Next, free condoms are handed out at all district hospitals. And last but not least, there is treatment. Allan Gelvan says: “We have a different principle for treatment than in Denmark. We provide all infected people with antiviral treatment, so their viral load is so low that they are almost not infectious. And that is probably the most important part of it. It’s the same principle they use at the best treatment centres in the United States. The only patients we don’t treat are those with such a strong immune system that their immune system can fight the virus on its own.” There are one or two new infections per year. The figure is so low because of a screening program that has been in use for the past five or six years. Allan Gelvan elaborates: “We screen people in such a way that we are aware of all infectious diseases. If a patient comes in with tuberculosis, for example, he or she will be tested for HIV. The same way with people who have something clinical that could lead to HIV. In addition, the surgeons test patients before they are operated on, and all pregnant women are also tested.” There is clearly good control of the HIV infection in Greenland, despite the fact that, as Allan Gelvan says, use of condoms has never aroused great enthusiasm in the country. Uffe Wilken

Christian W. Bruhn, Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen

Allan Gelvan, Dronning Ingrids Hospital, Nuuk

Photos & film: Poul-Erik Philbert

Back and Forth During the summer of 2014, a research team travelled the length and breadth of the South-East Greenland fjords to learn about the movements of the glaciers since the last ice age. This is knowledge that can help predict the melting of the inland ice sheet in the future and provide an estimate of how much it will contribute to rises in global sea levels.


t is an August day in 2014 and there isn’t much ice in the fjords of South Greenland. You can still come across glaciers rising erect out into the fjord and regularly calving their ice. But many of the glaciers have been retreating during the last 100 years or more. They are lying there now – often a little grey on top – and giving off melt water that has been accumulating in lakes or finding its way to the fjords in streams and waterfalls. In front of the previously potent glaciers, you will find boulders of all sizes, lying as if thrown around by an invisible hand, surrounded by an often impassable growth of low scrub, small bushes, wild grass and lichen. A landscape that has been at peace from the ice for many years. It is these types of glaciers and landscapes that a team of researchers from Copenhagen and Aarhus Universities have thrown themselves at during last summer’s fieldwork that has operated from the three-masted schooner Activ, which cruised in and out of the fjords along the south-east coast of Greenland for three weeks.

A pointer about the future Researchers are particularly interested in the South Greenland glaciers because satellite measurements during the last 10 years have shown that they are the ones that have been melting back so strongly. This gives a contribution to rises in sea levels, but nowadays it can be difficult to keep track of the processes which are governing the ice loss. There is a lack of knowledge about the melting of the ice front and this necessarily makes the estimates of the climate models on the future melting of the inland ice sheet very uncertain. This is not the first time that the glaciers have been in the process of drawing back. Earth’s climate is changeable and, since the Ice Age 10,000 years ago released its grip, the glaciers in South Greenland have been back and forth several times. There was a warm period 8,000-5,000 years ago, known as the Holocene climatic optimum; another warm period from 1000 to 1400 CE; and the so-called Little Ice Age from about 1500 to the late 1800s. In fact, in the 1800s Greenland was in its coldest period since the Ice Age ended. The main objective of the project is admittedly to find out how the inland ice sheet has responded to natural climate variations over the last 10,000 years (see box: Glacial migration). But some periods were more in focus during this fieldwork than others, says Nicolaj Krog Larsen, an associate professor from the Department of Geoscience at Aarhus University. “We’re very interested in the warm period of 8,000-5,000 years ago, because there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that South Greenland was 1-2 degrees warmer at that time than now. So we’re trying to find out how much the glaciers melted back then, because it may give us a pointer as to what we can expect from a future that will apparently have a strong resemblance to past conditions.” The smartest thing would of course have been if we had been able to remove the ice and select a terminal moraine, which showed exactly how far the ice had reached back 5,000 years ago. Unfortunately, that is not possible. After the warm period, the clues were of course removed when the ice again

Lots of results The results of the expedition exceeded expectations, not least because the weather was good. 115 rock samples were collected and at the Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University, it is estimated that it will take 2-3 years to get through them all, not least because Laura Levy has to build laboratory facilities and implement methods at the department in conjunction with it. The 32 lake cores and sea cores will be examined much more quickly. There is good knowledge of the method in this area, both in Aarhus and in Copenhagen, and it will therefore take perhaps a year before the samples have been processed. Finally, a team of researchers from Durham University on the first stage of the expedition collected samples in salt marsh areas near Timmiarmiut and Skjoldungen that can show even small changes in sea level over the past 500 to 1,000 years.

moved forward during the Little Ice Age, so researchers must get closer to the answers by using some more indirect methods.

Isolation basins Some of the answers are hiding at the bottom of the many lakes which are linked to the glaciers. Among the gear the team have brought with them are some three metre long plastic pipes which, together with the other drilling equipment, weigh no more than what can be easily transported ashore from Activ in an inflatable dinghy, as close to a selected lake as possible. By the lake, the drilling equipment is quickly rigged, after which two men row the dinghy out to a suitable place in the middle of the lake where the drill pipe is pounded into the bottom of the lake. A two to three metre long lake core is then pulled up, the many alternating layers of which tell the dramatic and variable history of the migration of the ice back and forth. The researchers have collected their core samples in two very different types of lake. One type is located right out near the coast, just below or just above sea level, the so-called isolation basins. The bottom cores from here show a number of shifts between marine sediments and lake sediments, and using C-14 dating, it can later be determined when the lake has been a part of the sea and when it has been raised above it. “We select a number of different lakes so we can reconstruct how the ice has melted back and how the land has risen after the last ice age during the last 10,000 years,” says Nicolaj Krog Larsen. “From that, we can see, among other things, that the land has begun to sink during the last 4,000-5,000 years because it’s getting cooler and the ice is therefore spreading.”

Complicated land rises This knowledge can be incorporated into the ice models which are used to calculate how much less ice there shall be before a rise occurs again. But the task is undeniably complicated by the fact that changes in the North American inland ice sheet, which was

They are heading north

Bottom samples from the glacial lakes were collected on the expedition. The collection took place from an inflatable dinghy using a three-metre-long pipe which was drilled into the bottom. The changing layers of the core show the varying life of the lake after the last ice age.

The research groups from the Department of Geoscience, AaU, and the Natural History Museum of Denmark are going to North-East Greenland for the next field season to study threshold lakes and isolation basins around the large outflow glaciers in the region, which are currently contributing significantly to the rise in global sea levels. 85% of the inland ice sheet is up there and the ice may in the longer term be affected more by the seawater than in South Greenland, where a large part of the inland ice sheet is above sea level. The field work will include funding from a grant of 7 million Danish kroner from the Villum Foundation which the Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University, has been awarded for research into the response of the inland ice sheet to natural climate variations in North-East Greenland over the last 10,000 years.

much larger during the last ice age than the Greenland one, affect the subsurface movements in Greenland. When the ice in Canada began melting 8,000 years ago and caused the land to rise, it transmitted inversely to the Greenland underground and caused it to sink at a time when it would otherwise have risen. “So it can be difficult to calculate if the changes in the Greenland lakes come from changes in the Greenlandic inland ice sheet or in the North American inland ice sheet,” says Nicolaj Krog Larsen. “This makes it difficult to reconstruct what happened to the inland ice sheet solely from the isolation basins. So we also work with a different type of lake which we call the threshold lakes.”

Threshold lakes The so-called threshold lakes are located immediately outside the present ice front at a height where they have not been in contact with the sea. A core from such a lake shows how the ice has migrated back and forth across the lake. “When the lake was covered with ice, a lot of melt water was washed across it, which has deposited some glacial flour that can be totally milky white or a grey layer of sand and clay,” says Professor Kurt H. Kjær from the Natural History Museum of Denmark. “When the ice has drawn further back, the melt water ceases; the lake becomes full of life and activity and an organic production begins which deposits some dark layers. Most recently, we can see that this normal lake sedimentation at one point was followed by the Little Ice Age, when even the outer lakes again received melt water from the ice. And now the ice has started retracting again through melting, the sedimentation is beginning once more.” By analysing the different layers in the lake cores, researchers can therefore say how the ice has moved back and forth over the last 10,000 years and by linking the information from the two types of lakes, it is also possible to remove some of the uncertainties associated with the impact of the North American inland ice sheet.

Cosmogenic samples The pipes with the collected core samples were systematically packed on Activ under safe conditions so they could manage the voyage back to Copenhagen without being damaged. Somewhat easier to store were well over 100 rock samples which, under the restrictive conditions on a ship, were stored under a bunk in one of the cabins. The rock samples were so-called cosmogenic samples that are used in a dating method to determine the migration of glaciers back and forth after the Ice Age. The rock samples were collected in areas in front of the retracted glaciers and they stem from the often huge boulders that lie scattered in front of the glacier where they have been released from the ice. The collection of rock samples was led on the expedition by Laura Levy, a post-doctoral researcher from the Department of Geoscience at Aarhus University, who has previously

Watch video clip of rock sawing.

worked with this method both in the USA and Greenland. “We select very large boulders that seem to have been stable in their position since the ice disappeared,” says Laura Levy. “The moment a boulder emerges from the protective ice, its surface begins to be bombarded with high-energy particles from space, which convert oxygen to Beryllium 10. And when we measure the number of Beryllium 10 atoms in the stone back in the laboratory, we can calculate by counting backwards when the stone was free of ice and when the glacier therefore retreated.” However, it isn’t as easy as it might sound. The work of selecting the right boulders, which should preferably be located in a line from the fjord in towards the glacier to be able to date the glacial ice retreat boulder by boulder, often takes place in very inaccessible terrain. And it is completed by sawing a piece of rock off the surface of the boulder with a special rock saw.

Better models Over the next year, the first results of last summer’s fieldwork in South-East Greenland will start coming through. They will provide a more detailed understanding of how Greenland’s glaciers have been moving during the past 10,000 years. They will show how the melting has been during the warm period of 8,000-5,000 years ago when it was 1-2 degrees warmer than today, thereby making it possible to calculate how the melting of the inland ice sheet will affect sea levels in a warmer future. “But this will not only increase our knowledge of the outflow glaciers in western and south-eastern Greenland,” explains Nicolaj Krog Larsen. “Our work will also contribute to a better ice cap model for the whole of Greenland. It takes time – we’re talking years – but it is slowly improving our understanding.” The data collected, along with such tools as hydrographic and topographic surveys and analyses of aerial photographs

of the glaciers, are a small contribution to calibrating the models so they fit better with reality. Initially, the aim is to create a better model for the last 10,000 years which can calculate the share the deglaciation has in the rise in sea levels, but in the longer term, it could also enhance the modelling of previous interglacial periods where we more or less have to rely on models. Altogether, it is an attempt to assess future climate scenarios for our planet.

Associate Professor Nicolaj Krog Larsen, Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University,

Professor Kurt H. KjĂŚr, Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen

Greenland Expedition blog (skipper Jonas Bergsøe)

Poul-Erik Philbert

Glacial migration Researchers from the Natural History Museum of Denmark and from the Department of Geoscience at Aarhus University are working together to find out how much the frontal zones of the inland ice sheet have melted and migrated since the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago. The background for this work is that the deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, according to satellite measurements, has greatly increased, and that because of the lack of knowledge about the dynamics of the frontal zones, we do not know enough about how much it affects rises in global sea levels. The aim is to reduce these uncertainties by combining new and partly unproven methods from a broad spectrum of different research disciplines. The projects map the local hydrography and topography using digital elevation models and new satellite and GPS data. Aided by older aerial photographs, they extend the observation period back to the 1930s, when the warming was similar to what we are seeing now. The melt water signal from the threshold lakes and tapped icedammed lakes tells us about the response of the ice front to earlier warm periods, and a newly developed model of glacier migration calculates the share of the rise in sea level which is attributable to the dynamic thinning. Even small changes in sea level can be read in marsh sediments and reveal the contribution of the inland ice sheet to the last 1,000 years of changes in sea levels.

Looking down into the ice stream

The main street of the new

The Centre for Ice and Climate is preparing a new ice core drilling on the Greenland ice sheet. The aim this time is not to map the climate of the past, but to understand how the major ice streams flow. It may prove to be important knowledge if we are going to be better at calculating how much they will contribute in the future to rises in global sea levels.

built on the right-hand side

At the Centre for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen, it has been necessary for them to break with the routines of several decades. They have previously always looked for those places on the inland ice sheet where the ice is as undisturbed as possible, so that the layers of ice are nicely arranged in the order that the snow fell. It has been key for drilling a 2,500-metre long core that could document the evolution of the climate during the past 120,000 years. That way of thinking is turned upside down in the centre’s new project, where the focus has moved on to exploring how the constantly flowing ice streams are moving on their

EGRIP camp. Only the lefthand side has been built. The ice core drilling and the laboratories, as well as the residential tents, will be in 2016. Photo: EGRIP.

journey towards the sea. If the movement is to be measured, a drilling site had of course to be found where the ice was flowing as much as possible, and the choice here fell on the North-East Greenland ice stream which has suddenly begun to flow quickly in recent years. “We will drill down through the North-East Greenland ice stream to find answers to why an ice stream changes its velocity so quickly,” says Professor Dorthe Dahl Jensen from the Centre for Ice and Climate. “We hope with such a drill that we can, among other things, ‘see’ how an ice stream actually flows, and how the water system at the base functions, because that will help us to predict how much the ice streams will contribute to rises in global sea levels in the future.”

Dramatic increase in loss of mass It is common knowledge that the melting of the ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland is making sea levels rise and that in the light of global warming in the future, this may create problems for millions of people worldwide. However, researchers have not really got to grips with future rises in sea level and this is not least due to the lack of knowledge about how much the ice caps will contribute. As Dorthe Dahl Jensen says: “Temperatures in Greenland have increased 1-1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 10 years. This has increased both the melting at the coast and the speed of the great outflow glaciers that calve the large icebergs and these two each contribute to half of the annual loss of mass in the ice sheet. While the melting along the edge of the ice is fairly transparent because it is closely related to temperature, what happens to the ice streams is much more complicated. We don’t really know why they change velocity, only that there must be multiple sources and that glacial dynamics must be one of them.” Over the past 10 years, the ice streams have, in several cases, doubled their velocity and that has dramatically increased the loss of ice from the ice sheet. In the beginning, it was the glaciers in West Greenland and South-East

Greenland in particular which were contributing to rises in sea levels, and not least among them the much talked-about Jakobshavn Glacier, which has not only attracted many researchers, but has also become a political symbol of the consequences of global warming.

Giga loss One of the reasons for the Centre for Ice and Climate nevertheless choosing the North-East Greenland ice stream in the far north is that, after having been stable for many decades, it has lost about 20 gigatons of ice per year during the last 10 years; and that is no small matter – it is the equivalent of between 5 and 10% of the total annual loss of mass from the ice sheet. This has of course increased researchers’ interest in the ice streams from three glaciers in the north-east, Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, Zachariae and Storstrømmen, which will be visited by several research expeditions in the coming years. “The North-East Greenland ice stream is also unique because it is 600 kilometres long and starts so far in on the ice sheet that we have actually found a place to drill where the ice is moving fast, without it being an impassable region of fissures. Such a place can’t be found at Jakobshavn, for example,” explains Dorthe Dahl-Jensen. “The velocity at the selected drill site has reached 60 metres per year and, although it is some way from the 150 metres that can be measured further out towards the coast, it is optimal because the fissure regions don’t begin until 50 kilometres further out.”

Risk of deformation It is not just the logistical challenges of setting up a camp and drilling in an ice stream that have to be solved. It is also a technologically demanding operation because the borehole will flow with the ice and thereby get a large tilt and this may cause problems with drilling near the bottom. As a rule of thumb, it can be said that 80% of the movement of the ice stream is block flow that will move the whole borehole with it and therefore not affect the tilt of the hole.

The new drilling will take place in the very large ice stream in North-East Greenland. The ice stream begins near the peak of the inland ice and stretches to the coast, where it divides into three large ice streams. The surface velocity of the ice is indicated with colours. The dark colour flows at more than 150 metres per year. Illustration: EGRIP.

But the other 20% which takes place as deformation can be a problem for the drilling because it will affect the tilt of the hole. But Dorthe Dahl-Jensen is confident: “If we assume that the 20% deformation will occur in the lower 500 metres, it will mean that the borehole will get 1° of tilt each year. We can easily handle that over the 5-year period the drilling will take place, especially if we change our 12 metre long drill to a shorter 4 metre drill in the lower part. In fact, we will be able to handle a deformation of up to ten metres, provided of course that it doesn’t happen too much in jerks.”

Pioneering work Dorthe Dahl Jensen speaks of the upcoming drilling as pioneering work because there is currently only a limited knowledge of what is actually happening down in the large ice streams; and when researchers do not understand the processes in the ice streams, they cannot develop good ice flow models either. She is counting on the drilling remedying that because the long core will not only provide new knowledge about the ice crystals and the deformation of the ice, but also about the water channels and the water pressure down at the bottom. In addition to the drilling, they will also be continuously measuring the temperature, the tilt and the pressure in the borehole. “We must use our new knowledge to understand how the ice flows so the data we collect will be fed into our flow models, which will then simulate the ice stream. It will be used to predict what is going to happen in the future and it can be used directly to calculate the rises in sea levels,” concludes Dorthe Dahl Jensen. The drilling does not start until 2016, while the field season this year was being spent moving the equipment from the old NEEM camp on the top of the ice sheet to the new location, which has been named EGRIP. Poul-Erik Philbert

Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, Centre for Ice and Climate, University of Copenhagen


A Spot of Bother In 1959, the Danish government ran into an acute political problem when it became clear that the USA was in the process of building a research station under Greenland’s inland ice sheet. Not only was the station’s energy to be supplied by a portable nuclear reactor, but the whole design showed that it just had to be a camouflaged military project. Two Aarhus science historians think it is a good example of Denmark’s sensitive coexistence with the USA in Greenland during the Cold War.

Photo: US Army.


a gathering on Tuesday, 18 August 1959, the US ambassador to Denmark, Val Peterson, drew the Danish Foreign Minister, Jens Otto Krag, to one side. Peterson told Krag in private that the USA was in the process of building a research station under the inland ice sheet about 250 kilometres east of the Thule base. He regretted that it had happened without Denmark having given its permission, but advised Krag to seek an amicable solution of the diplomatic problem. The USA had previously applied for permission to build the camp under the ice, but the Danish authorities had initially suggested that the application be withdrawn. Krag’s surprise that the Americans had nevertheless gone ahead with the project was only surpassed by his fear of what would happen when it was revealed that the station was going to be supplied with energy from a small nuclear reactor. With their fait accompli, the Americans had stomped directly into a political minefield which Krag and the government had to find a way out of.

The first refusal It took no more than two days for Jens Otto Krag to organise a crisis meeting of top officials from the Foreign Ministry, the Greenland Ministry, the Ministry of Defence and the Atomic Energy Commission. They discussed what to do about Camp Century, which was the name of the research station. Henry Nielsen and Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen, historians from the Centre for Science Studies at the University of Aarhus, have investigated the events concerning Camp Century in connection with a major research project on the Cold War called Exploring Greenland. “We can see that applications from the US defence authorities for trials in Greenland usually walked through the different ministries without major problems,” says Associate Professor Henry Nielsen. “It seems that, on the whole, the ministries just gave the green light.” With the application for the Camp Century research station, the tune changes. The Foreign Ministry had already

Cooperation with the USA in 1959

Photo: US Army.

been informed 10 months earlier that the USA was planning a research station under the inland ice sheet and that it involved setting up a portable nuclear reactor. It was especially the latter which made the officials in the Foreign Ministry discreetly recommend for the first time that the Americans gave up the project and suggest that they could site the station in Alaska or Canada. “We have come to the conclusion that experiments with nuclear reactors in Greenland will give rise to a number of problems that we rather [...] would like to avoid,” it said in the note to the Americans.

Government under pressure Initially, the problem was that an American nuclear reactor in Greenland could lead thinking towards a break with the Danish ban on nuclear weapons on Danish soil in peacetime. This could in particular provoke the Soviet Union, which did not like the USA’s advanced threat in North Greenland, and

The USA had had a military presence in Greenland since World War II and had been cooperating with Denmark since 1945, but after the war the latter tried to reassert its sovereignty over Greenland. The cooperation rested on the Greenland Agreement of 1951, which gave the Americans almost unrestricted room for manoeuvre within the so-called American defence areas. The agreement emphasised that the Americans were not permitted to have nuclear weapons on the territory of Greenland. In addition, the Americans could apply for permission to conduct scientific studies outside the defence areas too.

as late as 1957 had reacted unusually sharply to Denmark’s decision to set up non-nuclear-armed Honest John and Nike missiles. “If Denmark and Greenland was perceived as a place where the United States could do as they wished with nuclear reactors – and potentially nuclear weapons – the fear could arise that the Soviet Union would begin to act more aggressively towards Denmark and could, for example, threaten with nuclear weapons,” says Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen. The Social Democrat-led government was also being pressurised by the government’s coalition partner, the Social Liberal Party, which was strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, was a partial opponent of NATO and would get restive if an American nuclear power plant was installed at Thule. If the Social Liberal Party withdrew from the coalition, the government would fall. So in the Foreign Ministry, they felt backed into a corner. Denmark had by and large given the nod to everything the Americans had asked for throughout the 1950s so as not to put its sovereignty over Greenland in danger. The so-called

Photo: US Army.

Greenland card had been played without a murmur and the goodwill of the United States and NATO, which an acceptance of US wishes in Greenland could provide, had been exploited.

An explosive secret But there was also another – less obvious – problem: “In retrospect, we can see that it didn’t make things less confusing that, in 1957, the Danish prime minister H. C. Hansen had given the Americans permission, via the US ambassador, to have nuclear weapons at Thule Air Base – something only a small handful knew about in 1959,” says Henry Nielsen. We know from Jens Otto Krag’s diary that he knew of H. C. Hansen’s concession. So when Krag convened the meeting on 20 August 1959, he knew that there was an explosive secret which would certainly lead to the downfall of the government if it came to light in connection with a conflict about Camp Century.

A camouflaged plan Life for the government was not made any easier either by the fact that Camp Century was in reality a camouflaged military trial. An ambitious project, Operation Iceworm, was intended to make it possible eventually to deploy hundreds of US nuclear-armed medium-range missiles which, hidden in tunnels in the inland ice sheet, would increase the threat against the Soviet Union. “The plans around Operation Iceworm had not quite been unfolded in 1958-59, but it was no secret that what lay behind the project was not only basic scientific studies,” says Professor Nielsen. If it had not done so before, it came out in black and white in Reader’s Digest in 1960, when Camp Century was referred to as a forerunner of a much larger plan to build tunnels under the Greenland ice sheet for missiles. At the crisis meeting on 20 August 1959, it was also revealed that the participants did not believe that Camp Century was a purely civilian research initiative.

For example, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Executive Committee said that there had to be other purposes for an atomic reactor than exploring the possibilities of providing remote areas of the Arctic with power and that it was worrying that the installation of a nuclear reactor could also serve military purposes.

Spin anno 1959 It was clear, however, that the Americans were going to proceed with the Camp Century project regardless of Danish reluctance. The Danish authorities initially tried to limit the worst damage and asked the Americans on 26 August not to inform the press about the project, ‘as such indiscretion would create great difficulties for the Danish authorities.’ But it was too late. The Sunday Star newspaper had already printed the story about Camp Century and the nuclear reactor a few days earlier. The Americans, in particular the US Army, on the contrary wanted to actively use Camp Century as part of a PR campaign. They probably also found it difficult to understand Danish concerns and the following year several press teams visited Greenland and Camp Century. However, the Danish Government was now forced to release the news. “Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee was briefed on the government’s permission to build a civilian research station and install a nuclear reactor with the peaceful purpose of supplying the station with energy,” says Henry Nielsen. “At the same time, the government publicly changed its opposition to the nuclear reactor under the ice to a story that it could be of benefit in supplying energy to the small Greenlandic society.” So the suspicion of a military purpose behind the station slipped totally into the background, and the qualms about the nuclear reactor were turned into a success story about the benefits of nuclear power for small, isolated Arctic communities. Spin anno 1959.

Exploring Greenland Exploring Greenland is a joint project between researchers from Aarhus University and Florida State University, which aims to examine the scientific and technological development in Greenland during the Cold War. The project has been supported by the Carlsberg Foundation in the period 2010-2013.

Visit Exploring Greenland’s website

The Carlsberg Foundation’s mention of Exploring Greenland

Read about the individual projects

Hear about the project at the Danish Academy

In any case, most Danish journalists were preoccupied with telling the story of the amazing city under the ice equipped with a nuclear reactor which could possibly be used in Greenland. The exception to the rule was Poul Hammerich, who in an article in Politiken in 1960 expressed the opinion that there had to be a military angle hiding behind the project.

Censorship of the American press As a curiosity, the two historians mention that Denmark was entitled to censor American journalists’ articles from Greenland. There was a supplementary accord to the agreement of 1951, which was to the effect that visiting journalists in Greenland had to send their copy to the Danish administration for approval. “We can see that this press accord was actively used in connection with Camp Century and Danish officials and politicians have made annotations to the articles sent to them, in which the military element is downplayed,” says Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen. An important part of the agreement was that the articles and their content would be made freely available to the Danish press.

It blew over The government managed to put a lid on Camp Century and escaped unscathed through what could have been a big problem. The horror scenario of Operation Iceworm and several hundred nuclear-armed long-range missiles under the Inland Ice also evaporated. Camp Century was closed down in 1966 and Operation Iceworm was put away in the drawer. This brought the Danish government out of a scrape which could have turned the Greenland map burning hot. Denmark avoided being crushed between the superpowers, and H. C. Hansen’s permission to the Americans on the stationing of atomic weapons at the Thule base remained a secret all the way until 1997, when the research report ‘Greenland during the Cold War’ brought it to light. Poul-Erik Philbert

Henry Nielsen

Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen Centre for Science Studies, University of Aarhus

See the US Army’s film about the building of Camp Century

Photo: US Army.

A town under the ice In 1959, when the Americans started building a research station under the inland ice sheet 250 km east of the Thule base, it was officially to test the system under the ice. But behind the project, there was in fact a large-scale, ambitious, military goal of increasing the nuclear threat towards the Soviet Union.


amp Century was in itself a comprehensive project. In 1959 and 1960, 5,600 tonnes of materials were transported more than 250 kilometres over the inland ice sheet, and in the course of an amazingly short space of time, a veritable town grew with room for about 200 people under the ice.

Well-organised camp The camp consisted of 21 ice tunnels, a total of 3,000 metres of passages, with roofs of large metal arches which were covered with snow. Inside the passages, container houses were installed where scientists and other personnel had their daily lives. The tunnels were 6 to 9 metres wide and 10 to 400 metres long, and the main street, which went through the whole camp, was large enough to accommodate sled trains pulled by a tractor. There was naturally accommodation, mess rooms, workshops, laboratories, water and energy supply and sanitation but such facilities as shops, hospital clinic, church, gymnasium, post office and library had also been thought of.

Operation Iceworm It was already clear early on that many of the activities had some far-reaching military purposes. More recently, the opening of the American archives confirmed that behind Camp Century lay plans for a gigantic project, Operation Iceworm, that would make Greenland a central part of the US nuclear strategy. The plan was in effect to place up to 600 nuclear-armed Iceman intercontinental missiles and 2,100 launch sites in a 4,000 kilometre long ice tunnel system ten metres below the surface of the inland ice sheet. The planners had calculated that the entire complex would cover about 140,000 square kilometres, and that it would require 11,000 men to operate the system. The United States could reach Soviet targets quicker and more accurately from North Greenland than from North America. In addition, the plant would be isolated, far from the densely populated areas in the USA and Western Europe,

and transportation of the missiles under the ice in an area corresponding to three times the size of Denmark would make it impossible for the Russians to locate all of them.

The ice said no That the Iceworm project came to nothing can hardly be explained by the estimated astronomical capital expenditure of US$2.4 billion or the US$400 million for the annual operation of it. Nor can the expected political resistance in Denmark alone justify the USA leaving the plans in the desk drawer. In the end, it was the inland ice sheet that toppled the load. For the many glaciological studies and practical experience in Camp Century showed that the ever-moving masses of ice would mash and slide both the tunnels and the missile launching stations into pieces in the space of just a few years, and that it was therefore not practicable. The military visions were packed away and Camp Century closed in 1966. Nevertheless, the massive research input on the inland ice sheet has given returns. Among other things, the first tentative steps were taken towards the later ice core drilling on the inland ice sheet when a 1,390 metre long ice core was drilled out of the ice sheet in 1966. Poul-Erik Philbert

Henry Nielsen

Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen Centre for Science Studies, University of Aarhus

See some old photos from Camp Century:

Sewage into the sea A solution to the sewage problem in the Arctic requires some fresh thinking. In Sisimiut, scientists from the Arctic Technology Centre are working on developing an effective cleaning of the town’s sewage which can minimise the environmental pollution caused by passing it directly into the sea.

On Google Earth, you can clearly see how a brown plume is spreading out from the ‘Chocolate Factory’ in Sisimiut. Toilet waste can be a nuisance with regard to both odours and health problems and, according to Pernille Erland Jensen from DTU, contributes to tarnishing

Pop over to Google Earth and take a trip to Sisimiut. In the southern part of the town, there is a brownish outflow spreading out from the coast like a plume, and if you look more closely, you will discover that it must have come from a pipe coming out of a large building. The building is known as the Chocolate Factory and is the place where toilet waste is collected from those houses in Sisimiut which do not have sewerage.

A brown plume Pernille Erland Jensen is a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and, since 2006, has been

Sisimiut’s reputation as a tourist resort.

affiliated with the Arctic Technology Centre in Sisimiut. During the last 4-5 years, in collaboration with the Qeqqata municipality, she has in particular been doing research into Greenland’s sewage problems. “It could be okay to lead toilet waste directly into the water if only it was being diluted in the open sea. But the tides spread the brown plume into the nearby bay, where people have their dinghies moored and where the members of the local kayak club practise the Eskimo roll. It’s both revolting and dangerous to health.” Pernille Erland Jensen points out that tourists who see the toilet residues lying sloshing around in the water will most likely hesitate a moment before recommending Sisimiut to their friends and acquaintances as a picturesque Greenlandic town in the middle of beautiful, untouched nature.

Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut So, according to Pernille Erland Jensen, there are good reasons for doing something about the sewage problem. But at the same time she is quick to emphasise that we have to find alternative technical solutions to handle sewage in Greenland and not just copy what is done elsewhere. “Choosing a conventional Danish solution with a wastewater treatment plant would be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. In itself, it would be extremely expensive to build, and with the small, remote, Greenlandic communities, the gain to the environment wouldn’t measure up to the cost,” she emphasises. DTU researchers have been studying waste-water solutions in small settlements without sewerage and in large towns with sewerage. In some settlements, they collect toilet bags and empty them either into the sea or stack them up on land. In other places, residents throw the bags out the window and leave them there, or leave them on ice so they disappear in the water when the ice melts. It seems to be a good idea to gather the toilet waste from the settlements and mix it with biological domestic waste and compost it.

Two DTU students, Ellen Marie Drastrup and Susanne Bjerg Petersen, working with a pilot plant for chemical-mechanical treatment of waste-water in Sisimiut. Photo: Pernille Erland Jensen

“Our research has shown that freezing the composted waste has a very great effect. This is particularly true if it freezes and thaws a few times during the winter because that will reduce the pathogenic micro-organisms, so it becomes a cleaner and more hygienic material,� says Pernille Erland Jensen.

Small sewage outlets There are still houses in Sisimiut which have no sewerage. In these places, the grey waste water from kitchen and bathroom sinks is led out and discharged directly into the ground, while the toilet waste is collected in septic tanks or fetched in bags. But in Sisimiut, about 75% of the houses have sewerage. The same is true in other larger towns. You can still see sewage pipes above ground, but the most common thing today is that the pipes are in channels blasted into the rock, even though the construction costs are high. In the hilly terrain, there are two methods to lead sewage away. Either gravity is harnessed and it is allowed to run off into the nearest sea, or a larger and more energy-consuming system can be built to pump waste water through the landscape.

In Sisimiut, they have gone for the first option, which saves the costs involved with maintenance and energy. On the other hand, the pollution gets spread because the toilet waste is pumped into the sea through several small sewage outlets.

Sewage is threatening health Previously, a direct discharge into the open sea would have been a workable solution. The toilet waste consisted mainly of organic matter and some nutrients which were neither hazardous nor environmentally harmful and which, in the small quantities involved, got diluted and degraded completely in the sea without problems for the environment. Moreover, the settlements were more scattered and the risk of infection was low because there was little contact with the surrounding community. The situation nowadays is quite different in a modern Greenlandic town like Sisimiut with its 5,500 inhabitants. “What’s new is that toilet waste water in particular contains many chemicals from, among other things, medicine and its residues which don’t decompose easily and are hazardous,” says Pernille Erland Jensen. “We have to remember that at least 95% of the medicine we consume comes out again, primarily in the urine, and therefore ends up in the environment.” This means that there may be a health problem in the existing sewage solution. Researchers from Aarhus University, in collaboration with the Arctic Technology Centre, have been studying mussels and crustaceans in Ulkebugten where some of the sewage is discharged, and here they found, among other things, micro-organisms which do not die if they are subjected to antibiotics. “And that’s a problem of course if they’re transmitted to people, because it means they can get infected with pathogenic bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and so can’t be treated.” The other problem is that the discharge does not take place out into the open sea, but into Ulkebugten and other areas that are closed and stagnant. This leads to both oxygen depletion and a dead seabed, and gives problems with smells.

The sewage also contains quite a lot of heavy metals which settle on the bottom.

Removing micro-organisms The researchers from DTU are working on various solutions to the sewage problem. The least complicated is mechanical cleaning where the larger things are simply removed by filtration. Pernille Erland Jensen has also worked with chemical cleaning where chemicals are added to get the small micro-particles to accumulate into larger particles which can then be filtered out. “Our aim is to develop a facility with both chemical and mechanical cleaning that is so effective that it can eventually be irradiated with UV light that will remove the pathogenic micro-organisms, thereby eliminating the risk of infection. But it requires some very clear waste water, as the remaining micro-particles will otherwise create shade against the UV light so the micro-organisms can hide and survive.”

Simple solution This is a very simple solution without a large sewage treatment plant or a large communal sewer. The existing system can be used by installing a small plant on the existing outlet in Sisimiut. The municipality is very eager to get started on the project, but Pernille Erland Jensen warns against beginning until there is a plan for what to do about the sludge that remains. “We have investigated the possibility of composting it, like with the toilet waste in the settlements and from tourist chalets. Another option is to manufacture biogas, but that raises new technical challenges,” she explains. So far, researchers have been experimenting with separating out the organic domestic waste and mixing it with waste from the local prawn factory, and Pernille Erland Jensen believes that there is a basis for an economically sustainable biogas plant. The challenge is that it requires great technical competence to run such a plant and it may be difficult to attract the necessary technicians to Sisimiut. Poul-Erik Philbert

Pernille Erland Jensen, ARTEK

Black and White Memories Developed Old films awaken memories and often get the viewer to reflect on the present. Anthropologist Anne Mette Jørgensen is using this linking between past and present to get thoughts going about the future.

Shark catch at Saatut, 1939. Photo: Jette Bang.


he scene in the flickering, black-grey film clip shows a Greenlandic hunter in a kayak giving a shark the final fatal blow. The next clip shows the same hunter skinning the metre-long shark while the shark is lying along the side of the kayak. The clips come from a film from the 1930s taken by a fisheries biologist, Paul M. Hansen and are interesting because they tell us about how the hunt was carried out, about some biology and about how kayaks looked in that district. The named clips are part of a large stock of 16mm films that has been stored and, until recently, forgotten about in the Ethnographic Collection at the National Museum. The material includes films from Asia and Africa, but one third of them are from Greenland during the period 1914-1971 and partly filmed by Jette Bang and Lauge Koch; and also Paul M. Hansen of course. Anne Mette Jørgensen, a PhD student from the National Museum talks about the importance of the films for the present: “The films represent a very broad material with rich detail that could in particular be of use to researchers. For example, the films show how the kayaks looked in Kangamiut compared with different types in Nuuk Fjord, which in turn may reflect the fact that they have been adapted to specific circumstances in different areas. Biologists can certainly infer something about the distribution of fish species. And as an anthropologist, I would say that the films can also have a political identity angle and show how Greenland’s history can be seen through Greenlandic eyes. There are things from the 1930s which have not been well described in other sources and which there was not much focus on back then. Now we can see what people used to do.”

Inquisitive and documenting eye There is though a certain difference between the Greenland films and the films from Asia and Africa. While the latter are often true ethnographic films, Anne Mette Jørgensen is more reluctant to describe the Greenland films as ethnographic. She prefers instead to call them ‘historical archive films from

Jette Bang’s two film clips on shark catches and the mine at Marmorilik

the world’ on the grounds that ethnographic film shows in particular how people lived. The Greenland films are more documents of, for example, institutions and professions – even though there are some exceptions. Many of the films have been made by Danish officials stationed in the area. Anne Mette Jørgensen hesitates when asked if it is possible

to see a change in the way Greenland and Greenlanders are presented during the approximately 60 years long period which the films cover. She explains: “The majority of the films are from the 1930s and I think it’s hard to see. It’s basically the same theme that recurs. It’s supposed to prove an existing perception that Denmark as the colonial power is bringing Greenland into the modern

Thalbitzer 1914 William Thalbitzer was a Danish linguist and eskimologist. One of the oldest films in the material that Anne Mette Jørgensen is examining is a film from Thalbitzer’s stay in South Greenland in 1914. On the applicability of this film for researchers here 100 years later, Hans Christian Gulløv, a professor at the National Museum, says: “The film shows kayaks and umiaks and has pictures of the great Greenland vessels in Julianehaab harbour from before the First World War. It is one of the earliest in existence. What is unique is the footage from the now abandoned settlements in the Cape Farewell area. At that time, people lived there who originally came from East Greenland and he found their descendants. It is unique material because he has documented something that has later disappeared.”

world in a caring and successful way. In Jette Bang’s films, you sometimes see her truly inquisitive eye and the desire to show how people lived, even though she was actually hired by the Greenland Office to document Denmark’s modernisation of Greenland.“ The same themes often recur in the films – naturally enough focused on many of the same icons as present day television viewers love to watch. Nature is a major theme, as in all other Arctic films, says Anne Mette Jorgensen. It acts both as a backdrop, but also as an object for what is being filmed and is a very important part of some of the films. In addition, stereotypes such as kayaks and the umiaks appear. Anne Mette Jorgensen says: “On the whole, life on the water is very prevalent – how people move around and use kayaks and umiaks for hunting, fishing and transport. This applies both to Knud Rasmussen’s film from the 7th Thule Expedition and Thalbitzer’s film from 1914. Both of them show kayak races. Thalbitzer even has a clip of the settlement administrator’s motorised boat.”

A therapeutic effect However, Anne Mette Jorgensen’s project is not only being carried out in front of a computer screen in one of the National Museum’s beautiful rooms. She also shows some selected films in Greenland in the settlements where they were originally recorded – for example in Qasigiannguit and Sisimiut. Anne Mette Jorgensen says: “I want to examine what importance archive films have and what we as museums can use them for today. As an anthropologist, it interests me what films trigger in people’s minds. What thoughts people have about themselves and their lives and what the past means to them. It has an almost therapeutic effect on some of the audiences. Many come over and say thank you for a good day. So it awakens many memories in people. When people in Qasigiannguit watched a film from the prawn factory in Sisimiut, they noticed that it was the same kind of tables that they had stood by until the settlement’s factory closed in 1998. Then their thoughts

went back and they talked about how, back then, seasonal workers travelled up to Qasigiannguit and new barracks were built for them.” What is equally interesting for Anne Mette Jørgensen is to find out what thoughts it triggers in the minds of the young people who see the films. They obviously can’t know anything about ‘back then’, so here it is more an understanding of history and local history the researcher is fishing for. So she gathered a focus group from the high school in Sisimiut. Anne Mette Jorgensen says: “The young people can recognise locations and are very aware that things were different. They paid quite a lot of attention to the fact that back then many people worked together in the factory – today two men carry out the same work. So it’s also a way of triggering thoughts about the present.” Anne Mette Jorgensen ends: “I’ve narrowed down my project to focus on natural resources and mining in order to put the present in perspective. The films show how we have lived once. But the question is: How do we continue today?” Uffe Wilken

Anne Mette Jørgensen

Greenland’s Iron Age Came From Outer Space Ton-heavy piles of basalt stone lying scattered in North Greenland are the visible evidence of Inuit use of iron before more modern tools became available. Small pieces of metal from meteors were hammered into tool blades to become a part of trading which stretched over thousands of kilometres.

Archaeologists climb the approximately 15 metre wide pile of hammerstones lying up against a mountainside. In the middle of the pile is a recess which marks the spot where the meteorite known as Woman once lay. Photos: Jens Fog Jensen


etween 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, a meteor thundered through the atmosphere over North Greenland. On its way through the atmosphere, the several metres large clump broke into smaller pieces that were scattered over the inland ice sheet, and in the sea, at Innaanganeq (Cape York) near Thule. A few thousand years later, the meteorite gave rise to an actual Iron Age occurring in Greenland three centuries before the Icelandic farmers brought iron and agriculture to the country’s southern regions.

Meteoric iron and hammerstones There have been virtually no archaeologists in this part of Greenland earlier to investigate the meteorite’s points of impact and the settlements that are associated with them. This was remedied in August 2014 when a team of geologists and archaeologists went ashore in the area. The aim of the expedition was to clarify what traces there were of human exploitation of the meteorites. As Martin Appelt, an archaeologist from the National Museum says: “We knew about the points of impact because these are large scientific objects. But the story about them having been the whole region’s source of raw material for iron has been forgotten. For archaeologists, it’s a wonderful resource to study because the meteoric iron has a chemical composition that makes it different from other types of iron. So one can use the meteoric iron to demonstrate contacts over huge distances and use relatively simple methods to gauge whether a given piece of iron a long way off in Canada is meteoric iron from Cape York or has a different origin. In this way, the place of origin of the meteoric iron can be fixed and it can be seen how it has been traded over great distances and that meteorites from the Thule district have had an importance for the entire eastern Arctic as a source of iron.” But before the iron could be traded, it had to be processed. This is where the piles of stones come into the picture, because the stones have been used as hammers. Jens Fog Jensen, an archaeologist at the National Museum says: “They have been hammering enough to win a gold medal!

Example of a hammerstone where the edges have been chipped off after the stone has been repeatedly hammered against the meteorite.

Firstly, they have knocked a little piece off and then the blacksmith has put the piece on a stone and thoroughly beaten it until it has been flattened, given a sharp edge and become even harder so the pieces could be used as arrowheads and flensing knives.� The piles of hammerstones testify that visitors to the area over the centuries have brought new hammerstones with them to the iron meteorites when they were going to extract iron for knives and harpoon blades. A specific type of basalt has been used and the size of the stones varies from 40 kg down to something that can be held in the hand. They have apparently been used as both hammer and anvil and have been exploited until they split. Mikkel Myrup, an archaeologist from the Greenland National Museum and Archive, has measured some of the piles of stones by drone and he estimates that the piles may contain up to 70 tons of hammerstones, an assessment Jens Fog Jensen agrees with;

quite a feat, especially when considering that the basalt had to be fetched from 50 km away.

Iron trading Archaeologists know that the iron was used by the Dorset people from the middle of the eighth century. When the Inuit arrived in the 12th century, they took over the trading of the meteoric iron, which was then spread over a wider area. Martin Appelt thinks it was one of the reasons for the disappearance of the Dorset people because it contributed to their social networks and trade relations being ruptured, and to the Inuit taking over and trading it on a grand scale in large quantities. Trading has taken place as far away as halfway to Alaska. In southern Greenland, in the areas with Norse settlements, a single fragment of meteoric iron has been found, but the most likely explanation for this is that it has been traded. The Norsemen did not visit the site themselves.

A greedy Inuit It was a stowaway who first made the Europeans aware of the strange stones on Cape York. In 1817, a Greenlander known as Zakaeus sneaked on board a British ship which was anchored in Disko Bay. Zakaeus got as far south as Scotland, learned to speak English while wintering there and came to the attention of John Ross in 1818 while the latter was planning an expedition to Thule area. Zakaeus came on the expedition as an interpreter, resulting in Ross getting detailed information about the meteorites, place names, tools and hammerstones. Others came by later to collect meteorites. Robert Peary removed Ahnighito, Woman and Dog, which can be seen today in the American Museum of Natural History, and in 1925, Knud Rasmussen took Savik to Copenhagen. Not everyone, however, was equally lucky with their journeys. Jens Fog Jensen tells the story of an Inuit equivalent of ‘The Woman with the Eggs’ (a tale by Hans Christian Andersen):

“They had been hammering away at the meteorite known as Woman for generations, so it eventually looked like a surreal sculpture. Then this one Inuit, who comes from the north from the settlement of Etah, knocks a huge piece off and decides he wants to take it back home with him. Then

Ahnighito is lifted from Hope to quayside.

he won’t have to make the several hundred kilometre trip back and forth several times. He manoeuvres the several hundred kilo heavy lump onto his sled, but on his way home across the ice, the ice breaks up and the sled, stone and dogs disappear into the depths. He and his family just manage to save themselves. Since then everyone has known that you should only take small pieces with you.�

A shower of meteorites The pieces of meteorite scattered on Cape York are collectively called the Cape York meteorite, because they came from the same meteorite impact. When the meteorite entered the atmosphere, it broke into pieces and the fragments fell on a large area around Innaanganeq. Geologists have gauged that the entire Innaanganeq meteorite must have been a part of the iron core of a large asteroid that was shattered by a collision in space 650 million years ago. The debris from the collision is still raining down on Earth. In all, about 300 iron meteorites have been found which originally came from the core of the now shattered asteroid. Agpalilik, one of the biggest pieces, can be seen at the Geological Museum in Copenhagen. The piece originally weighed 20.1 tons, but a 550 kg slice was later sawn out. Studies of the slice showed that the chemical composition varies from one end of the meteorite to the other. This can be used to tell us something about how the original asteroid was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Henning Haack, a geophysicist from the museum, thinks that the original metal fragment from which the Innaanganeq meteorites originate must have had a diameter of at least six metres and a weight of about 1,000 tons.

ICELANDIC ICE AGE LABORATORY The Danish landscape is shaped by the ice masses of the Ice Age. One of the most common landscape shapes is the drumlin, which is an oval hill of deposits from the ice age. How this shape has arisen has been a matter of discussion, but by examining a unique glacial region in Iceland, Danish and overseas geologists have come much closer to an explanation.

Drumlin field at the front of Múlajökull in August 2009. The photograph shows how drumlins come out from the substrata of the ice in connection with glacial retreat. Most of the glacial foreland consists of streamlined drumlins.

Photo: Ivar Örn Benediktsson


f you are standing on a nice warm summer day on a hill on North Funen or in a field on Lolland in Denmark, it can be difficult to imagine how the green countryside looked at the end of the most recent Ice Age. If your imagination does not suffice to envisage the ice masses, you can travel to central Iceland instead. Here you will find the Múlajökull glacier flowing in a landscape that is so close to how it was in North Europe thousands of years ago that scientists use it as a contemporary Ice Age laboratory.

The shapes evolve The hills on Funen could very well be drumlins, which are typical landscape shapes formed by glaciers like Múlajökull. What makes this 4,000 year old Icelandic glacier unique – and makes geologists come back year after year – is that this is the world’s only region where more than 100 drumlins are constantly evolving. A drumlin is a streamlined, oval landscape shape which can be a few hundred metres long and up to 50 metres wide and 5-10 metres high. Drumlins arise every time the ice thrusts forward. The research group’s results show that drumlins, unlike many other types of landscape shape from the Ice Age, do not arise from actual erosion of existing sediments or from snowmelt, but from every forward thrust depositing sediments under the ice. Geologists can in fact distinguish individual layers of moraine. The sediments come from the ice cap which, all things considered, is filthy. There is indeed some erosion along the sides of the existing drumlins during a forward thrust, but what especially occurs is a deposition on the top. So the more forward thrusts a drumlin has been exposed to, the more elongated and narrow it is.

Surging glaciers and soft ice Anders Schomacker, a geologist at the Danish Natural History Museum, does research in the impact of ice on landscapes. He says: “We can use Múlajökull as a counterpart to the glaciers of the past in northern Europe and North America because the

Facts about the Múlajökull project ¼ The word ‘drumlin’ comes from the Irish ‘droimnín’, which means ‘the smallest ridge’. ¼ Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Lund University, UNIS (Svalbard), Gothenburg University, Iowa State University, University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee and the British Geological Survey are participating. ¼ The project has been funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, the Icelandic Research Council (RANNÍS), Landsvirkjun (the National Power Company of Iceland), Iceland’s University Research Foundation and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Rushing water and

Icelandic glacier does not flow in a valley where it has physical limitations like mountainsides, or where it flows into the sea – something we frequently see with the Greenland glaciers. Múlajökull lies, so to speak, in a flat landscape, like the ones we know from Denmark, where it can pretty much flow out unimpeded like a helping of soft ice cream. As in Denmark, the glacier flows on top of thick sequences of deposits from which it can pick up material to reshape the landscape in other places below and in front of the ice.” Múlajökull is what geologists call a ‘surging glacier’, i.e. a glacier that periodically moves forward in quick thrusts. Anders Schomacker continues: “We know of five forward thrusts with Múlajökull in the last 100 years. They have typically been thrusts where the front of the glacier has moved a few hundred metres in the course of a few months.” The sudden thrusts occur when more ice and snow has been built up in the accumulation area than the ice flow

glacial fissures. Follow geologists on the edge of Múlajökull. Film: Ívar Örn Benediktsson. 1.31 minutes.

Experience a helicopter flight along the edge of Múlajökull. Film: Ívar Örn Benediktsson. 1.59 minutes.

can compensate for along the edges. At a point in time, the weight becomes too great and the ice starts to flow – the underlying ice is, as it were, smeared out by the overlying mass of ice. Anders Schomacker concludes: “Drumlins are the most studied landscape shape from the Ice Age. Stacks of articles have been written, but how an entire field with hundreds of drumlins has been formed by an active glacier has never been described. It is known how individual drumlins in Norway and elsewhere on Iceland have been formed, but never the big fields that we see here with Múlajökull and from the Danish glacial landscape. Our study is the first of its kind.” Uffe Wilken

Some budding hopes If Greenland wants to expand its agriculture, both climate change and the younger generation are going to be a help. There will though be some challenges to be overcome along the way.

Lettuce being irrigated at Upernaviarsuk. Photo: Uffe Wilken.


ith a little help from the provincial treasury and some enterprising businessmen, history could indeed repeat itself deep into Nuuk Fjord. Conditions now are as they were when sheep from about 90 Norse settler farms were grazing there in the early 14th century. Professor Bo Elberling from the Center for Permafrost (CENPERM), a Center of Excellence at the University of Copenhagen, has been studying the potential for modern agriculture in South Greenland and in Nuuk Fjord, and he says: “The Norse settlers knew that Nuuk Fjord was a good place to have sheep, so it’s nothing new. It’s fertile; there are warm summers – the temperature in June is fairly high – and the area matches in terms of biomass, slope and distance to the sea – that is, the six main criteria for where we today have fields in South Greenland are met in Nuuk Fjord. Going forward, the area would be able to produce enough hay for winter feeding when it is supplemented with imported concentrates. So the fjord has a significant potential.” CENPERM is focusing on Nuuk Fjord because of an investigation which was initially going to project the agricultural potential in South Greenland, but which then took a detour further north. The analysis was originally intended to extrapolate and enlarge on what was already known to function as a good business for 40-44 farms and their production of 20,000 livestock for slaughter in South Greenland. Bo Elberling says:  “We wanted to find out how many more sheep climate change could potentially make possible in South Greenland by the year 2090. It turned out that an increased growth of grass, and thereby hay, would be able to support an increase of 40% compared to the current production of hay and the corresponding 20,000 ewes. So we thought we would try the same exercise up the coast – where conditions match those in South Greenland. It turns out that the Nuuk Fjord is a good place. The interesting thing is that we don’t have to wait until 2090. Conditions today are so favourable that there is a potential equivalent to 2/3rds of the current South Greenland production of sheep for slaughter.”

Tunnel-shaped greenhouse at Upernaviarsuk. Greenhouses in Greenland have to be able to withstand severe storms. Photo: Uffe Wilken.

Greenlandic lamb sausages But there is something missing. Bo Elberling puts a little fly in the ointment of the discovery and continues: “But hay is not the only thing required – the logistics platform is missing. Barges are needed to move heavy agricultural machinery, fertilizers, animals and other things around. In addition, an abattoir is required to process the meat.” According to Bo Elberling, one of the problems of agriculture will be in entering the world market. If they are going to produce quite a lot more than they do today, there is not the domestic market to purchase the products. But if they are going out on the world market, they have to be competitive. You either have to have some super fine products or some exclusive ones. Otherwise, you can’t afford the logistical costs. Bo Elberling explains further: “But as the sheep farmers say: If you can get an abattoir to make lamb sausages, you are already further along the value chain and then you can export lamb sausages. They taste just as good as the English. So of course Greenland sausages stand a chance. You have to get into a chain of development where you don’t just have a lot of raw meat, but also have some processing. Politicians want to hear ‘jobs’ in this as an alternative to ore production.” It is not only in meat production there is an untapped potential. Many sheep farmers have a niche production of vegetables – especially potatoes. Here too there are budding opportunities – but there are also challenges.

Challenges There is political interest in expanding agriculture and increasing vegetable production – something that can be assisted by a warmer climate. There are also good funding possibilities from the Greenlandic government, from which money can be borrowed for equipment and buildings. The funding though is of a limited size and is mostly used up every year. Potatoes have been produced for about 20 years but, as with the vegetable production, it is progressing slowly. Aqqalooraq Frederiksen, head of Agricultural Consulting

The deliberations of the Agriculture Commission, February 2014; Main content

The legislation concerning the agricultural sector is clarified since the legislation sets the framework for the sector It provides an overview of the historical chain of events around the agricultural sector and agricultural policy The economy is described in the agricultural sector/sheep farming, so an insight can be gained into what revenues and expenses sheep farmers have The opportunities for increased self-sufficiency of Greenlandic agricultural products, where Neqi A/S is the key player, are briefly described. What is required to achieve a more economically sustainable Greenlandic agricultural sector is described, including the present condition of the sector and its future investment needs The recommendations of the Agriculture Commission. Download the report here

Services in South Greenland, believes that there is a beneficial effect with agriculture because Greenland could become self-sufficient and that would be good for the economy. He says: “The marketing and transportation possibilities are too slow. The potatoes are sent to the rest of the coast, but it’s harder with vegetable production because the goods have to be fresh. The transportation is too slow. If you build greenhouses, you will be able to extend the growing season. So far, the greenhouses are broadly speaking confined to Upernaviarsuk. The problem with greenhouses is the strong winds which can easily destroy them.” One of the challenges is education, which Aqqalooraq Frederiksen thinks should be enhanced. Not many people begin farming because it is economically difficult and hard work. Most of those starting up are the children of sheep farmers where it is a matter of a generational change. But perhaps milder winds are blowing here too. On 13 May 2015, it was possible to read in the magazine tamanut under the headline “Young people want to go into agriculture” that there is a growing interest in becoming a greenhouse gardener. The education programme at Upernaviarsuk lasts about three years and parts of it take place in Norway, Iceland or Denmark. It comprises primarily the cultivation of various vegetables in greenhouses, where the gardener participates in the entire process, including planning and sales of products. The education programme is tailored to Greenlandic conditions with a shorter growing season in a colder climate. The agricultural school currently has 14 students. Perhaps the seeds of a genuine Greenlandic green production could lie among these 14 young people. Uffe Wilken

Bo Elberling

Greenlandic sheep farming controlled by vegetation response today and at the end of the 21st Century. Andreas Westergaard- Nielsen et al.; Science of the Total Environment 512-513 (2015) 672-681

Upernaviarsuk experimental farm

Rubbish Dump or Open-Air Museum Near Timmiarmiut in South-East Greenland, you will find the dilapidated testimony of something that was once a manned weather station. Stillness has descended over the old weather station in Timmiarmiut in South-East Greenland. There is not a sound this windless July day, when the buzzing of mosquitoes is the only thing that can be said to approach a disturbing decibel. This is how it has been since the station was closed 35 years ago. The station consisted of a handful of houses that housed the radio station with its daily meteorological activities, employees’ common areas with living room and kitchen, a barracks for the crew, machinery and storage buildings and apparently a chicken coop, which gave them their daily eggs and, now and then, a hen for soup. The station house is still here despite the lack of maintenance and a robust climate. As far as one building is concerned, there are admittedly only the foundations left, with the floor tiles scattered around; some other buildings have

Photos: Poul-Erik Philbert

almost collapsed, while others still are peeling and more or less unscathed. There are also rusty barrels, fuel installations and distorted and toppled masts on the site.

An exposed spot in the world Many people will probably see a rubbish dump when they come to the old weather station and be surprised that no one has been here and cleared everything away. But there are also some of us who are pleased that the weather station has been allowed to fall into decay in peace and quiet in the rocky landscape, because it doesn’t take much imagination to breathe life into the station again and populate it with the dozen or so people who had their workplace and their home in this exposed spot for just over 30 years – 1948 to 1979. They routinely collected meteorological data and kept the station running. Weather observations were sent every three hours around the clock, a daily observation of the ice was made with a balloon up at 500 metres and the Northern Lights were observed. In addition, the weather station sometimes delivered flight meteorological data to the airport at Narsarsuaq. We also know that the radio station burned down on 18 July 1967, but that was not enough to interrupt the daily stream of weather observations from Timmiarmiut. On the other hand, one can only speculate about how their daily life was, but Leif Rasmussen, a Greenland meteorologist who made use of the observations from the station for more than 40 years, can certainly tell us that, from the weather aspect, Timmiarmiut was not a cosy little corner. The station’s crew was hit by frequent storms and regularly experienced very large amounts of precipitation. In the winter, they had to contend with several metres of snow that buried the station houses, and it was probably of little comfort that the snow was often more evenly distributed when the site was hit by violent piteraqs, storms which occur due to severe down currents from the inland ice sheet.

Leif Sørensen has moreover heard that the station had been built in ‘the wrong place’, as the skipper who once had to deliver the building materials made a mistake. But it probably doesn’t mean anything special.

Expansion or closure Today the manned station has been closed for 35 years and has been replaced by an automatic measuring station in the immediate vicinity. But when you visit the site, you can get a sneaking suspicion that the closure was not thoroughly planned. In any case, there are about 100 sacks of cement lying on the site, so there is some evidence that while they were planning the closure in one office, in another office they had plans to begin constructing new buildings. But then we have heard about such things before. Poul-Erik Philbert

Polar Front 2015 English  
Polar Front 2015 English