"Winter is Coming"... But are we going?!

Aug. 20, 2018

The SIIOS Demobilization Team (who will collect our data and dig out our icy worlds seismic sensors) arrived in Greenland after a very troubled journey...and then had to wait for days for the right conditions, and their turn, to get into the field site. At least we have cute entertainment while we cool our heals in Thule - Mini arctic foxes!  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones, was also in Greenland and brightened up the wait! This blog post is by Field Safety Officer, Suz, who reached Thule Airbase first and had the longest to wait: 

On August 4th, the remainder of our team arrived here in Thule, meaning everyone other than me. This represents a significant accomplishment given the routing the others took to get here. On the Air Force flight from Baltimore to Thule, science groups are lowest priority and we ended up losing 5 of our six seats, sending the most of our team on a tour of the North Atlantic including Reykjavík, Iceland and several towns in Greenland. I spent the time here in Thule wrangling errant boxes of food and equipment and getting it all over to the help hangar as well as tracking down our shotguns in the armory. Understandably, we are not allowed to have firearms in our possession on base and will need to pick them up just before we fly. You can imagine the paperwork involved!

Weather that is just flyable makes for a rough put-in process because of the challenge of building camp in strong winds and wind chill (as per our May installation). It would be particularly so for our team this time because we have folks with limited field experience. On top of that, had we put-in today, some of our folks would have lacked certain field skills that will make put-in go more smoothly, such as how to pitch the cook tent (which is no small task, especially in high winds). I had planned to cover these skills with our team during the last couple days but that wasn’t possible with the team absent.

The delayed put-in, while compromising time for science in the field, at least allows us to catch up on field prep including going over our bear protocols. We have also determined that we should start into our chocolate ration so that we don’t get behind in chocolate consumption and consequently have to eat even more than a bar per day per person once we arrive in the field. 

We have been informally discussing the psychological aspects of the "Hurry Up and Wait" reality of deploying into the field in polar regions (that is, places with frequently challenging weather). For me, even when my intellectual brain knows that we are in all reality not going to fly, I make a point to make myself believe that we are likely to go. This leads me to go further with my personal prep, including my psychological expectations, than if I focused on the fact that we were realistically on the road to nowhere. This approach means that at the worst I will merely be disappointed which I prefer over being surprised and feeling less prepared than I would like to be. I think this whole realm can take some getting used to; it is perhaps an unanticipated aspect of field work for newer folks.

What else is interesting here at Thule Air Force Base? We enjoy seeing the young arctic foxes scurrying around town, dark, tiny and cute as can be. The arctic hares here are huge, providing a contrast to the miniature foxes. Since we left in mid-June, the vegetation has “greened up” and I have been enjoying many familiar arctic plants in their full summer bloom. We are also happy that there is a nice gym here. Simply catching up on sleep after our respective travel days and from having been up later last night getting ready in case we flew today is an important use of our time in addition to reviewing field skills.