The first thing I noticed was the smell of the lilacs as I stepped out onto the hot pavement in downtown Augusta Maine. As I walked into the building and on the way up the stairs, smells of home hit me, laundry detergent, a light wisp of perfume that I do not often wear, and the smell of the dirt in my potted plant sitting in one of the huge windows overlooking the Kennebec River. It was interesting to notice all of the small details upon return from a trip and it was the first time that I noticed all of them by smell. A few days later during a mentorship meeting with Arctic scientists, graduate students, and teaching professionals, someone shared stories about coming home from Polar expeditions and stated that the first thing that always hits him upon return are the smells of home. I smiled.
According to The National Snow & Ice Data Center overall, humidity in the Arctic atmosphere is low. Colder air has a lower capacity to hold water vapor than does warm air, and in some places, Arctic air is as dry as air in the Sahara Desert. Humidity tends to be higher over the oceans and in coastal areas and in summer, when water vapor evaporates from the relatively warm ocean surfaces. Environmental conditions modulate the sense of smell and more moisture allows for a stronger sense of smell.
Kangerlussuaq Is Kinda Creepy Interesting
It has been a week since I returned. The trip back was long, taking three days flying first to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland's main air transport hub and the site of Greenland's largest commercial airport. During WWII, Americans took responsibility for the security of Greenland, a geopolitical move that would serve them well during the Cold War. It served as one of the Distant Early Warning Line bases and a supply station for similar early warning facilities. Its usefulness diminished with the fall of the Soviet Union and the last of US Air Force personnel left the base in 1992.
The first days home were spent literally doing nothing and sleeping a lot. The mental and physical stimulus of a new place and experience left me exhausted. Everything was unfamiliar, the geography, climate, atmosphere, language, food, and even the subject matter included in discussions at meals, in cars, and while at work with the team. New knowledge, terms, and vocabulary is a lot to absorb in a really short amount of time. I have never seen nor heard scientists talk about logistics, equipment, and discipline to that extent.
Two days later it was back to school, students, paperwork and grading. It was also time to start processing the entire expedition and think critically about next steps implementing and sharing what students and I learned about Arctic Greenland.
Goals and Planning
The proposal submitted as part of the application for this program and student goals centered on exploring the impact of melting ice sheets, glaciers, and icebergs in the Arctic on the Gulf of Maine, and how environmental changes to the Gulf of Maine impact economic, political and social life in Maine and Arctic nations.
The vehicle for study was the creation of an interdisciplinary Arctic Geopolitics course combining environmental science, social studies, and visual arts curriculum. The course is designed for students of all levels and abilities, and students who traditionally struggle with academics are actively recruited. Our final projects in the past included an Arctic Council Simulation, however this year we are taking a different approach.
The Route 1 Project
Melting ice sheets and fast moving glaciers produce more icebergs. According to the US Coast Guard, in order for an iceberg to reach the North Atlantic the currents typically take it from Baffin Bay through the Davis Strait and Labrador Sea. This is a long trip and most icebergs never make it. Most icebergs melt well before entering the Atlantic Ocean. One estimate is that of the 15,000 to 30,000 icebergs produced annually by the glaciers of Greenland only one percent (150 to 300) ever make it to the Atlantic Ocean. When an iceberg does happen to reach the Atlantic, its long and traveled life quickly comes to an end, melting rapidly in the warm waters. At most, it will take two months to melt, unlike icebergs stuck in parts of Baffin Bay where it can take upwards of four years for a berg to melt. Although Maine does not have icebergs, it does contend with the issue of sea level rise as discussed in the journal posting, Start In The Backyard.
One of the goals of the Greenland Subglacial Tremor Project is to better understand impacts of Arctic meltwater on rising sea levels. The Western Greenland Ice Sheet is far away, out of sight and out of mind, and many people deny climate change here on a regular basis. Over the next couple of years we are going to connect Mainers with Greenland starting with a collaborative and interactive photography exhibit entitled, IcebergsA floating body of ice that has broken away from a glacier. In Maine. It will include student created imagery of coastal Maine that documents evidence of climate change they are seeing with their own eyes superimposed with imagery taken by members of the Greenland Subglacial Tremor Project of icebergs and ice sheet work in Greenland. Interactive stations that allow participants to interact with gear will accompany. It will allow audiences the opportunity to view impactful climate change phenomena within familiar surroundings, and hopefully will encourage new perspectives and action large or small.
Our class is exploring options to place the exhibit in the lobby of the Maine State House where a variety of interested parties pass through everyday. Students in future classes will document different portions of coastline along Route 1 and decide how and where they want to exhibit their work. Future works of art will build upon this year’s documentation of environmental changes and include imagery related to Maine economics, politics, and society as well.
Will this work? Maybe. If not, over the past two years, the expedition, weather, and teammates have taught us how to remain flexible and adapt to whatever life and circumstance hands us at any given moment. Adapt we shall.
What are signs that rising sea levels are affecting Maine’s coastal environment and communities? What ideas do you have for capturing imagery that will engage audiences?