Månad: September 2015

Expedition Day 19 – Aborted attempt #3

Took off this morning at 0900 for Mestersvig. Wind has dropped completely but we now have fog settling in. The plan was to fly low along the valleys or up along the coast, whichever allowed us a clear passage. We got about half way along Klitdal, the large valley in between Scoresby Fjord and Carlsbjerg Fjord, before hitting a wall of fog. The helicopter dropped down vertically to less than 30 m – couldn’t see a thing. A slow 180° turn showed that we were surrounded.

Doubling back the cloud lifted to about 300 m allowing us a brief view across the mountains towards Mestervig.

White cloud and fog as far as the eye can see.

Turned back for Constable Point.

Called Lasse at Kap Stosch; they have fog rolling in from the sea too.

The pilot and I trudged back to the airport from the helipad through the mud. The airport manager came in after we grabbed a coffee – “What else can you do? This is Greenland!”

He’s right. Next time we will arrange our fieldwork in the Bahamas.

Expedition Day 18 – Aborted attempt #2 / camp visitors

Another fine morning in our Arctic paradise… High winds, more rain and low clouds – we were ready to go but increasingly poor weather has kept us grounded.

Rescheduled for tomorrow morning at 0900. Weather is “supposed” to improve then.

Have coordinated everything with Lasse via satellite phone. They likewise have rain and fog at Kap Stosch. He also said that they had a couple of polar bears come through the camp last night – only 300 m away!

All OK though – the bears moved on. Seems like they were just curious.

The team is obviously very keen to get out now. Everything is ready so we just need a break in the @*!?§#% weather!

Expedition Day 17 – Aborted attempt #1

Wind at 35 knots and reasonable visibility at Constable Point this morning so we took off in the helicopter at 0900. We flew low through the valleys to avoid the worst of the wind on the mountains. Made it about halfway to Mestersvig before coming up against a wall of low cloud and fog moving in from the coast. The pilot changed course down the next westerly valley trying to find a passage, but the East wind kept pushing the fog bank towards us. After the next valley, and the next, we finally we made it as far as the mountains, but these are a no go because of the high winds.


On the way out we had been joking (nervously on my part) about the rough air turbulence. If the pilot looks panicked I will panic. In the meantime I will just have to live with the bumps.

The pilot checked his fuel – “we had better turn back” – good idea to make it home without any drama.

We were chased back by a low bank of low cloud all the way to Constable Point – had to fly zigzag (and sideways) round to the fjord before we could finally land.

A quick conference over a coffee and we have a plan. The cloud is not likely to lift today but the wind might drop. We will therefore try again in the morning. Hopefully the cloud will settle over the mountains and we can try the coast.

The camp at Kap Stosch has an ample supply of food and water so it is now just a waiting game with the weather.

Expedition Day 15-16 – High winds and more rain!

The weather is against us. I am back at the “Hilton” in Constable Point with a few other scientists, who are likewise stuck because of the storm. Apparently there is a big low-pressure centre hovering over Iceland that is hitting the East Greenland coast with 60+ knot winds and heavy rain. This is far too dangerous for the helicopter to fly so a flurry of phone calls between Kap Stosch, the helicopter pilot in Constable Point, the POLOG main office in Copenhagen, and myself are trying to fix alternatives.

The story is that we are unlikely to fly tomorrow because the scheduled flights must take priority (if the weather improves that is). So it looks like it will be one day later, but the winds are supposed to last for anything up to five days.

Just depends on when it is safe to fly.

At least I have the chance to update all of my field notes – and keep track of the blog!

Expedition Day 15 – Constable Point

Ben quickly helicoptered over to the airfield at Constable Point to organize our next load of provisions and arrange for export of the fossils being shipped down from Kap Stosch. All is ready for tomorrow

Expedition Day 12-15 – The rain hits again!

Meanwhile back in the camp….

It has rained constantly for three days. We sat in camp and sorted through our fossils for shipping. Grzegorz ventured out in the rain to take some samples for laboratory analysis. He also managed to get upriver to that final spot and collected several concretions containing fish, ammonoids and an unusual large skull. These were immediately packed for shipping. We can look at them in more detail later.

We gave Ben a call to see how he was. Very pleased to hear that he will join us again soon!

Expedition Day 11 – Stranded in Scoresbysund

(Ben’s story)

After a two-hour flight along the coast through a rainstorm I touched down in the town of Scoresbysund at 01.00 in the morning. I did not know what would happen but I was met by a nurse in a two-seater quad bike and driven straight to the small hospital. The Danish doctor was waiting for me. After unwinding both the bandages and bloody compress he had a look – “nice cut you have there. This might hurt a bit”.

Seven stitches later I began to wonder where I am going to stay. Scoresbysund is tiny, only 400 people, and it was the middle of the night. Luckily the doctor said that he had plenty of room, and I could stay at his house until I got a flight out.


Besides, he already had another patient in “convalescence” – an English visitor who had fallen ill while collecting botanical specimens.

Would my return flight be for Kap Stosch or all the way back to Sweden? The doctor’s response was laconic – “you are OK to keep working, I’ll just show you how to take out your own stitches”.

Looks like I am staying then.

A few phone calls to both our logistics company POLOG, and the SPRS the next morning and it was all sorted. I would join the group again after four days when they moved camp to our next field location on Ymer Island. There we would be looking for evidence of ancient bony fishes and the earliest tetrapod transition from water onto land.

Expedition Day 10 – Disaster strikes!

Today started well with a plan to head downstream along the Blue River to sample the Permian strata on the coast. We also wanted to see if we could access a large valley called Otocerasdal, which was our last target for the fossiliferous concretion-rich layers. Unfortunately, after a 2-hour hike up and down the deep ravines along Gaffeldal (intending to bypass the Blue River ice tunnel) we got a view up the valley – it was completely filled with ice and a high sandstone cliff blocked the entrance at the lower end. The only access would have to be by traversing the ridge top on the other side and come down from above.

We will have to save that job for another day.

The lower end of the Blue River opened up on the coast. We crossed down into the Permian strata and recovered some brachiopods –stalked filter-feeding invertebrates that have a distinctively asymmetrical valved shell.

Geologically speaking, we had also just walked through the greatest mass extinction event of all time. Over 80% of all life disappeared at the end of the Permian, paving the way for new organisms to radiate including many modern groups.

We also just crossed the Permian-Triassic boundary, representing the dawn of the Mesozoic Era and the beginning of the “Age of Dinosaurs”.

The eastern side of the river had a sparse cover of concretions. These produced some Claraia and the ammonite Wordieoceras.

Everybody then headed down to the river mouth. Ben stayed back after finding a superb specimen of the fish Australosomus. He had taken out some tools to clean away the matrix – a brush and scalpel, the latter used to flake off encrusting dry mud and rock from around the bones.

He then caught us up at the bottom of the river while we stopped for some photos and a bite to eat.

Re-packing the backpacks we started heading out. Unfortunately as Ben swung his bag up onto his back the scalpel slipped out of its container and cut through both the bag and Ben’s leg. His cut was too long and deep for us to deal with. Patching it up with dressings from our medical kit, we left Ben with Henning at the bottom of the river while Grzegorz and Lasse hiked out to call for help on the satellite phone.


Four hours later the helicopter arrived to fly Ben out for medical treatment.

The rest of us sat in camp waiting to find out what would happen next.

Expedition Day 9 – Giant ammonites

We worked down river as far as the ice tunnel taking GPS waypoints for the most important outcrops. We located some of the older horizons and found parts of giant ammonite, Otoceras, which would have reached the size of a bicycle tire. Several examples of the large snail Belerophon were also recovered, as well as a very large coprolite (100 mm in length) containing chewed up ammonites.

We moved back upstream as far as possible, finding organic rich shale layers with pyrites (iron disulfide) and masses of Claraia; these “clam-like” bivalves seemed to have tolerated the low oxygen conditions on the ancient Triassic sea bed.

Considerable amounts of plant material, including horsetails and some seed-like structures, were also found indicating a close proximity to land.

There is one last upriver exposure we need to see. It looks promising but we have run out of time fore today.

Another discovery was Arctic fox tracks. Sadly we did not get to meet the owner for a photo session!


Expedition Day 8 – Over the top #2 / Tracks and traces

We trekked to the far side of Stensiö Plateau today (approximately 4 km) to find an access out onto the north facing cliffs along the coast. We are again trying to locate the “Stegocephalian horizon” to find more fossils of aquatic temnospondyl amphibians. The climb up from the camp passed through the same Anodontophora fassaensis beds that we surveyed days before. A more detailed inspection, however, had located numerous slabs of fine siltstone that were covered in ripple marks, evidence of currents frozen in time for 250 million years


There were also numerous burrowing traces and scratch marks left by worms and small arthropods. A significant discovery was a concretions filled with conchostracans. These are tiny arthropods still found in shallow freshwater ponds today.


The top of the plateau was spectacular. An endless field of flowers, streams and ice all glittering in the sun. We hiked across, sliding down the snow banks until we came to a gap in the high basalt cliff; we had marked this previously on our geological maps and Google Earth satellite images. The slope was steeper than expected, and after slipping and scrambling down part of the way we decided that it was a little too risky to continue. We therefore split the team to work along the nearest ridge and also further along the plateau. Both sites turned out to be rich in trace fossils including burrows and resting outlines of small limulids or Horseshoe crabs.

No more bones were located, but the large collection of trace fossils has confirmed our interpretation that the palaeoenvironment was a very shallow inshore system with considerable freshwater input.

A treat on the walk home was a face-to-face meeting with an Arctic hare. It posed for a few photographs before bounding off.