Here is what you bring with you on a three-week research
expedition to Greenland, a place where summer temperatures often
dip below freezing and the nearest towns are hundreds of miles
Maps. GPS devices. An inflatable raft. A generator and jerry
cans of gasoline. To cook, you bring a kitchen tent, lighters and a
kerosene stove. You pack pots, pans, pasta, hot sauce, rice,
dehydrated beans, cheese, oatmeal, nuts, onions and, most
You bring a laptop and satellite phones. You carry bug spray.
You wear a fleece jacket, rubber boots and long underwear beneath
waterproof nylon pants. You bring hammers, tool boxes filled with
chisels and various types of tubing. You pack a sledgehammer for
breaking ice and a shovel for bathroom trips.
You lug all of this equipment with you onto a helicopter. The
ride is intense, with several people crammed into a tiny space. The
propellers thrum noisily.
Then, the copter lands and you step out into a world so stark
and beautiful it’s hard to believe it’s real.
“Suddenly, your life becomes much simpler,” says UB
Associate Professor of Geology Jason Briner, a veteran of these
northern research trips. “That’s one of the things
that’s so inviting about the Arctic. The science we do is
cool, of course, but part of it is just about being in an expansive
landscape where people don’t travel all the time.”
Briner brings students to Greenland, Alaska or Baffin Island
about twice a year to ply the land for clues about the history of
climate change. The work addresses one of the field’s
enduring mysteries: how quickly glaciers can grow and melt
Life in the field is full of the unexpected, the unforeseen.
Briner once emerged from the kitchen tent to find a polar bear some
100 yards away; the team warded the animal off with flares. Other
days, white-outs swallow the camp, or mosquitoes and flies go on
Then there are moments of absolute wonder: long hikes that open
onto views of blue glaciers; a sky clear as glass; an eagle
wheeling around your boat. Briner recounts the distant boom of ice
cracking and falling into fjords. In the darkness of night, he
says, it sounds like thunder.