DCSIMG

2016- A Year in Review

By: Chelsi Slotten

    It’s been quite a year here at the Arctic Studies Center.  We started off with a workshop on animal crashes in the Arctic in early January and have kept busy ever since.  Scholars from across the US, Canada, and Europe joined us to look at how human-climate-animal interaction has impacted animal populations in the Arctic.  We were very fortunate to hear from Enookie and Charlie Inuarak, two hunters from the Canadian Arctic community of Pond Inlet.  They spoke eloquently on the how the Inuit relate to animals and the importance of understanding and preserving this bond.  Prior to the workshop, we hosted the Ernest “Tiger” Burch Memorial Lecture.  Dr. Morten Meldgaard, past director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, spoke on the close relationships between animal crashes and human economies with an eye towards how humans have impacted animal populations, which then impact human populations, over time. 

                                                        

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Enookie and Charlie Inuarak. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten.

              Our year continued with work on the upcoming exhibit Narwhal: Revealing an Artic Legend, which will open later this year, and collaborating on the Folklife Festival.  This year’s festival focused on the Basque population.  Dr. Fitzhugh has found evidence of Inuit-Basque interaction in Northern Canada during the 17th century, including evidence of potential cooperation between the two populations.  Several events during the 2 week festival focused on the archaeological evidence for the Basque’s in Canada.  The Festival was a huge success, and we greatly enjoyed being part of it and working with Basque artists and ship-builders.

              Following the festival, Dr. Fitzhugh made his annual research trip to Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, where he and a group of researchers conducted archaeological survey work and continued excavating the Hart Chalet Inuit site.  This seven week trip was punctuated by presentations at local museums and meetings with indigenous groups to discuss our findings and learn what information the locals were interested in exploring further.  These meetings were highly informative for all, and highlight the importance of working with local communities when undertaking archaeological work.

                                                        

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Rigolet Community Meeting. Photograph by Chelsi Slotten

              Upon our return to Washington DC, we hosted a reception for the White House Arctic Science Ministerial.  Dr. Krupnik was key in working with the Arctic Science Ministerial to organize this event, which was attended by representatives of all eight Arctic Nations and members of the Arctic Council.  We debuted a series of new banners that highlight the history of Arctic scholarship at the Smithsonian.   Our international collaboration continued with the Fulbright Arctic Scholars Week Open House on October 25th.  This program hosted 17 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars from all around the world and several Arctic Youth Ambassadors.  A breadth of experiences, ages, and academic disciplines came together to highlight the importance of Arctic research today and moving forward. The program’s highlight was the scholars’ presentation of their research work to the visiting public in the Ocean Hall.

                                                                                 

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Dr. Noor Johnson presenting at the Arctic Fulbright Open House. Photograph by Schuyler Litten.

              We rounded out the year with a workshop on the importance of increasing accessibility and awareness of Arctic archival collections arranged with the Jefferson Institute and Library of Congress.  This was, once again, an international affair with scholars from the US, Canada and Europe participating.  The breadth of information available of the Arctic is really astounding and digitization efforts have and will continue to make this information more available.

              This year has been filled with collaborations, meeting new colleagues and progress towards understanding this wonderful area we have chosen to research.  We are, as always, excited to continue to learn and ready to face whatever the New Year brings.  Wishing you all the best from all of us here.  Happy New Years!


ILULISSAT CLIMATE DAYS- ILULISSAT, GREENLAND JUNE 2 – 5, 2015

Climate Days brought together 158 Arctic specialists to share with one another the current knowledge of ice conditions and climate change in the Arctic. The primary venue for the conference was Ilulissat’s Hotel Arctic.

 

 

Sponsors who made this conference possible include Denmark’s National Space Institute, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the European Space Agency, the International Arctic Science Committee, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, the Hotel Arctic, and others.

 

 

Opening Session

 

Introductions made at Ilulissat’s sports hall (Ilulissat Hallen) were presented by Mala Høy,

Greenland Minister of Nature, Environment, and Justice. Anne Riiser presented a welcome from the Nordic Council of Ministers (NORDFORSK).

 

Professor Rene Forsberg led off for the major sponsoring institution, DTU-Space,

which is a Danish research Institute and part of the Technical University of Denmark. Here, he follows with a conversation with Toku Oshima of Qaanaaq, Greenland, on climate change and its effects on traditional hunting and fishing.

Professor Konrad Steffen, Director of the Swiss Federal Research Institute, began with the observation that sea level had been constant for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Now, with global warming producing more melt water and the upper layers of the ocean undergoing thermal expansion, we are seeing sea level begin to rise. The warmest year to date is 2014. Through changes in precipitation, evaporation, runoff, and ice discharge, the Greenland Ice Sheet is experiencing a loss in ice mass. The warming oceans are increasingly a key factor in melting of both glacier and sea ice.

Dr. Jennifer Mercer contractor to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) thanked that body for its support of Arctic and Antarctic research, with its largest funding increases directed to Alaska and Greenland. Other conference leadoff speakers included Jørgen Hammeken-Holm, Acting Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources. He commented that even with all the sea ice reduction in Greenland waters, commercial quantities of gas and oil have not been found.

Dr. Mark Drinkwater from the Netherlands, with the European Space Agency addressed the use of satellite programs through which ESA monitors and studies the cryosphere. He offers that the ocean is becoming warmer and there is more evaporation – more moisture in air, and more precipitation, which falls as snow at higher elevation in central Greenland, which rises to above 10,000 ft.

Karen Anne Arleth, Head of Greenland’s Climate Office addressed Greenland climate change and adaptation policy.

From a cultural change perspective, artists Bjarki Bragason and Anna Lindal of Iceland talked of how politics influences both economy and nature. A loop has been created in which cultural change is causing climate change, which leads to further cultural change – a continuous downward lock step spiral of climate and culture, as we know them. Bragason and Lindal raise the question: Can our economic model be sustained?

Glacier Dynamics:

Selected Modeling Endeavors

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Image caption: Subsequent conference sessions over the period June 3 through 5 were held in the Hotel Arctic, which operates under the Directorship of Erik Bjerregaard. Aerial image is of hotel with town to right (south) and airport to left (north).

 

Maximum thickness of sea ice around Greenland occurred in the 1980s. In 2012, on the ice sheet, Greenland experienced its record year for glacial melt. 2013 had much less melt, possibly due to a coldwater incursion into coastal fjords that reduced the amount of ice lost through calving. This temporarily reduced the ice discharge of outlet glaciers.

The European Space Agency (ESA) through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI) space program measures ice mass through three variables: elevation, gravity, and ice flow velocity. The data show that there is more ice melt in Greenland than in Ellesmere and Baffin combined, particularly in 2010 and 2012.

One of the leaders of these modeling endeavors is Konrad Steffen who has personally installed 25 automatic weather stations in Greenland.

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Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) does very impressive modeling of ice sheet climatology and surface mass balance. The key is understanding the relationship between elevation and precipitation and the amount of surface melting. These variables are all represented in “Greenland Mass Loss Fits”. Several different models use the same data in different ways, though all realize the same trend of decreasing Greenland ice mass.

In its climate change studies in Greenland, Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice (SVALI), a Nordic research initiative, found like GEUS that while there is loss of ice through melt in lower reaches of Greenland, the volume of ice at higher, central elevations continues to increase. As the atmosphere and oceans warm, there is more evaporation and precipitation, with the latter falling as snow at higher elevations in Greenland.

Changes in ice sheet mass can be measured in Greenland by using “space-borne grravimetry”. A pair of orbiting satellites repeatedly measures the gravitational attraction of ice sheet as they pass overhead. The amount of ice lost as the ice sheet melts and as icebergs break off the edge of the ice sheet is not compensated for by new snow and ice. The satellites measure the resulting mass imbalance.

Glacial velocity is a function of season and proximity to sea. There are interesting patterns of advance and retreat, which correlate with ocean temperature. The ice dynamics are a function of velocity (which is a function of the steepness of the outlet glacier), calving rate (which is related to ocean temperature) and subglacial hydrology. (Ian Joughin and Ben Smith). The force of gravity, the weight of the ice, drives ice flow. Changes in climate can modify the frictional forces that resist ice flow. For example, lubrication by melt water can reduce friction if it makes its way to the base of the ice sheet, allowing faster flow.

There is an increase in snowfall in central Greenland, which doesn’t compensate for the mass lost at the edges.

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In 2013, the rate at which ice loss was occurring slowed. With apparent overturning of the North Atlantic’s massive waters, there was likely a cold-water incursion into the fjords around Greenland, with less heat energy being delivered to the outlet glaciers. This unusual event caused several outlet glaciers to temporarily thicken and advance as of time of conference May 2015 (Mike Bevis). The temperature has averaged three degrees less than the average temperature for this time of year calculated over the last 30 years, barometric pressure has decreased, and precipitation has increased.

A significant realization of glacial modeling is that climate feedback mechanisms, like weather, are not linear.

Through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI), the European Space Agency has investigated ‘essential climate variables’, which are related to changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet. CCI data products include ice velocity, surface elevation change, calving front location, and grounding line location.

Doug Benn concluded that calving, sub-aqueous melting, and buoyancy of, causes the front of floating ice to bend upwards, as ice beneath the water line melts more rapidly than ice above the water line. This has led to collapsing ice fronts at glaciers in Svalbard. Water from beneath glaciers can drive circulation in fjords, bringing in warmer ocean water that enhances the rate of ice melt and calving, sometimes accelerating glacial speed. Benn suggested that glacier surges may sometimes be driven by ice changes at the front of the glacier rather than up in the accumulation area of the glacier.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program identified black carbon as a short-lived pollutant that drifts in from the south with 2015 proving to be a record-breaking high as massive, largely uncontrolled forest fires burn throughout western North America from California through British Columbia to Alaska with carbon particulate matter streaming to the Arctic. Local sources of black carbon further amplify build up. Every Arctic village has its own diesel-fired generator or electrical plant that emits black carbon.

The Greenland Climate Research Centre studies the fundamental relationships between community, ice, and living resources in northwest Greenland. They ask what does weather and climate change mean to the people who are dependent upon the sea for a livelihood. The essence of culture is to serve as a repository of hard won knowledge gained over time, which lends predictability to life. Actor Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves speaks of the loss of this predictability among the Southwest American Indians in the nineteenth century: “Through changes in circumstances, a people who become unable to predict the future become confused”.

Ilulissat Climate Days effectively demonstrated the complexity of climate science through the truly, fascinating modeling of environmental change in Greenland and with worldwide implications of those changes.

The Greenland Ice Mapping Project has tracked Jakobshavn (now Ilulissat) for 20 years, through 2014. The greatest rate of ice loss was in 2012. In recent years, the glacial terminus where calving occurs in Jakobshavn is moving inland approximately 600 meters each year.

Tracking Jakobshavn Glacier Flow

In 2013 I had the good fortune to meet Jens Ploug Larsen, a pilot who flies with Air Greenland as well as with his own local airline, Airzafari. In 2015, with one of Jens’s pilots, Martin, we tracked the Jakobshavn Glacier from Ilulissat inland towards the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photographs track glacial progression from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Note that images portray calving, or “ablation”, that begins well away from the sea.

To present this one glacier in a quantitative, global context, Jakobshavn – one of Greenland’s most prolific – each year produces enough water to satisfy all of the annual water requirements of the United States.

The Greenland Ice Sheet, which rises to more than 2 miles in height, is like a frozen desert that drifts largely through the forces of elevation (gravity) and ice mass. While still miles form the sea, a stream from the Greenland ice sheet enters the Jakobshavn channel. With compression and steeper incline, the ablation zone, region of calving, begins while still miles from the sea.

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A major ablation zone of Jakobshavn is fed with a number of ice streams, which congregate like the headwaters and tributaries of a river watershed. In front of the glacier is the top of a sheared wall, still prominently displayed as one large ridge with a zone of ice detritus in between.

03-4249.(rev)Ablation wall 04-4268.JKBG_Collapsed wall copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iceberg wall, shaped like preceding image of a sheared wall, now floats in the waters of Ilulissat’s Icefjord. All will become icebergs - and water.

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In the setting sun of an Arctic evening, a paddler in his kayak navigates through the icebergs of the Jakobshavn Glacier, calved into the waters of Ilulissat.

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NSF flight with Air National Guard 109th from Stratton Air Force Base Scotia, New York to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

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The US National Science Foundation (NSF) arranged for air transport for the American delegation on an U.S. Air Force C-130 from Stratton Base in upstate New York to Greenland’s primary airport, Kangerlussuaq.

Author/Photographer

Wilfred E. Richard, PhD Research Associate

Arctic Studies Center, U.S. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,

Washington, D.C.

Research Fellow, Uummannaq Polar Institute, Uummannaq, Greenland

 

Author

Michael John Willis, PhD, Research Associate

Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University

Adjunct Assistant Research Professor

Geological Sciences

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

 

Reviewer

Hal Salzman, PhD

Professor and Senior Faculty Fellow

Rutgers, The State University of New York

 

Acknowledgements

Renee D. Crain - National Science Foundation Logistical Support

Jens Ploug Larsen - Airzafari

Ronald W. Levere - publication design


Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga- A Retrospective

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

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Ask most people who the first Europeans in North American were and they would probably answer Christopher Columbus. They would also be incorrect. The first Europeans to land in North America were actually a group of Vikings sailing under Leif Eriksson almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Leif’s trip to North American resulted in a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland and contact with the Native American population there. The world became much smaller that day as human interactions circled the globe for the first time in human history. Monumental as this event was, Leif does not deserve all the credit. His eventual landing in Newfoundland was the culmination of 200 years of travel and exploration by his Viking ancestors. Fifteen years ago the Arctic Studies Center curated Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to trace that journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In journeying across the Atlantic, questions of how we know our past and its relevance today were addressed. As the world continues to shrink as a result of better transportation and the internet it’s useful to reflect on where we came from and to that end I have a couple questions for Dr. Fitzhugh.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?  10-ship

A: Producing “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” was incredibly complicated and expensive. Hillary Clinton kicked off our fund-raising effort. Curators from seven nations participated  and a dozen museums loaned objects. The shop opened at the Smithsonian and then traveled around North America for three years. We published a great book(cover shown to right) and we connected with a huge population of Scandinavian and Nordic people in North America. Fifteen years later I’m still lecturing about Vikings!

The most exciting part of the exhibit was the opening when I met the kings, queens, and presidents of all those countries and had lunch with all of them and the Clintons in the White House. Dessert? Chocolate Viking ships filled with ice cream and fruit!

Q: Have there been any major discoveries in the past 15 years that change or deepen our understanding of Viking travel to North America?

A: Nearly every year archaeologists find new Viking sites and artifacts. Recently a mass grave was excavated in Britain, a Viking ship burial in Scotland; a Norwegian penny dating 1065-85 in an Indian site in Maine; spoils from a wrecked Viking voyage in North Greenland, and studies of Viking burials in Greenland showing—contrary to previous belief that the Norse did not adopt an Inuit economy-- increasing use of marine foods (fish, seals) in their diet during the life of the Greenland Norse colonies.

Q: Why do you think people are still so fascinated with Vikings centuries after their era ended?

A: Vikings are a touch-stone topic! Everyone learns about Vikings in grade school—especially the raiding and pillaging. We are fascinated by these ‘barbarians who turned Christian’, their bravery, their boat-building skills, their sagas and poetry. They sailed across the Atlantic in small boats; they voyaged to Rome and Istanbul. They were also traders and nation-builders. Who wouldn’t be ga-ga for Vikings!!!

Q: What can the Vikings teach us that is relevant today?

A: Vikings were the quintessential explorers – they explored nearly half the globe and were builders of the finest boats of their day. They braved the storms of the North Atlantic and lived at the edge of the known world for nearly 500 years in Greenland. As we reach for the heavens in our space-ships we are following the quest for knowledge and exploration demonstrated by Vikings a millennia ago.  

Q: Is there anything else of particular importance you want people to know?

A: Be a Viking! Explore. Search. Sing. Work hard. And you will change the world just like the Vikings did.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history the online exhibit is publicly available here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/.