Kanger: You Can’t Get There From Here

April 20, 2010

Not today anyway

A C-5 Starlifter visited Kangerlussuaq airport last week, bringing cargo and people north to Greenland. Under wing: two C-130s, the workhorses of NSF's polar programs. All photos: Ed Stockard

The ash plume from Iceland’s exploding Eyjafjallajokull volcano drifted toward Greenland today, leading officials to close airports on the island’s southwestern coast, including Kangerlussuaq, the main logistics hub for the National Science Foundation’s polar research program in Greenland.  Scientists and support personnel  bound for Greenland waited in Schenectady, near the Stratton Air Base, in Scotia, New York, from which the Air National Guard 109th Airlift Wing flies the ski-equipped C-130s.

Last week while many of Europe’s airports were shuttered due to the ash cloud, Greenland’s airports remained open and program personnel arriving from the US were able to reach Kangerlussuaq—some in the gigantic C-5a Galaxy airplane that visited from Stewart Air Base in Newburgh, New York. But the winds shifted on Monday, sending the cloud on a westerly path toward Greenland.

The Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, which provides the C-130 heavy airlift for the U.S. polar programs, will monitor airport closures and meteorological information, daily making go/no-go announcements for personnel waiting for flights to resume.

The C-5a Galaxy with the agile Ken Borek Twin Otter taxiing by.


Iceland’s Vatnajökull: Europe’s Newest National Park

June 20, 2009

Field Notes contributor Rachel Walker recently spent a week in Iceland visiting some of the country’s natural wonders and will be writing several posts on her explorations.

On June 7, 2008, Iceland established Vatnajökull National Park. Europe’s newest and largest national park, it joins the existing Skaftafell National park, Jokulsargljufur National Park, and the Vatnajökull glacier.

A map of Iceland shows Vatnajokull in the southeastern part of the country.

A map of Iceland shows Vatnajokull in the southeastern part of the country and the volcanic trends that are so formative to the country's geography.

The new park covers a 12,000 square kilometer area—more than 12 percent of the Iceland’s surface, and Iceland’s tallest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur (2110 m), is located in the southern periphery.

The enormous area is a natural wonder smorgasborg: raging waterfalls, expansive peaks, glacial valleys, volcanoes, hot springs, and, of course, glaciers.

The Svartifoss waterfall spills over columnar basalt in Vatnajokull National Park.

The Svartifoss waterfall spills over columnar basalt in Vatnajokull National Park.

 

The Jokulsarlon lagoon, where ice falling off of the glacier drops into a giant lake at one of many tongues of the Vatnajokull glacier.
The Jokulsarlon lagoon, where ice falling off of the glacier drops into a giant lake at one of many tongues of the Vatnajokull glacier.
View from the Foss Hotel Skafatell, located in the national park, on a sunny day.

View from the Foss Hotel Skafatell, located in the national park, on a sunny day.

Iceland’s glaciers are retreating. From 1958 to 2000, the Vatnajölull glacier has retreated 328 square kilometres, shrinking from 8,538 square kilometres to 8,160 square kilometres. Still, this namesake glacier remains Europe’s largest. At its thickest, Vatnajökull is about 1,000 meters, and on average it measures between 400 and 500 meters. It covers seven active volcanoes, which cause enormous floods when they erupt (in 1996, the Grimsvotn volcano erupted so violently it lifted the glacier and caused torrents of floodwater to burst forth; the destruction caused significant death and obliterated a major section of the road).

In short, this is a fascinating area with myriad research subjects. It’s also a beautiful place to take a walk. But given the volatile weather, getting a good glimpse of the natural wonders is not guaranteed.


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