July 7, 2008 - After a very short night, the U.S. participants for the Greenland Science Education Week 2008 arrived at Stratton Air Force base for our 6 hour ride to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. There were about 50 other scientists and troops flying with us, along with the cargo destined for their Arctic research projects. Several people, in addition to us, were making their first 'trip to the ice,' so we didn't feel sooooo out of place!
Getting on a military transport was so different from the commercial protocols we are familiar with, that it was an education, too! First thing we learned was the difference between a C-130 and an LC-130: skis! The LC-130 is the plane equipped with skis for landing on ice and packed snow. Another mystery was clarified: flying on a 'Herc' is the same thing as flying on the 130, since 'Hercules' is the rest of the name of these planes.
We were met at the base gates at 5:15 a.m. (Where's the coffee??? This turned out to be the plaint of the rest of the scientists and troops waiting to board.) At the gate, names are checked off a list, and bags are deposited in the pallet crates right then and there. Next, you board the blue bus to the waiting area, where names are checked again – this time with your ID. You and any carry-on bags are weighed (happily, less than I feared) for the calculations of fuel consumption. This helps determine whether the plane will need to make a fueling stop along the way. Fortunately, we were able to fly direct to Kanger.
Next stop is a big room, with chairs (still no coffee) to wait. Unlike the airlines, you fly when it's time. It's 'time' when all the cargo is loaded and the reports from air controllers say the weather is okay along the route. We were lucky, and boarded around 8:00 a.m. The loadmaster and crew direct you to your seats, and help you stow your bags – no overhead bins on this aircraft! Seats are along the side of the plane rather than the rows you might be accustomed to on Delta or USAir. They are mesh and canvas and have a variety of very funky seat belt buckles. As you look around the aircraft, you see ladders, and toolboxes, gear stowed in every available place, and the wooden pallets. Windows are high, and there aren't very many. That was disappointing, and it made lift-off and landing a weird sensation since you couldn't see outside the plane. Ear protection is a must in these planes – the noise is more than annoying, it is truly deafening if you aren't careful. But it doesn't keep you from catching some ZZZZs!
Our flight was about 5 hours. We had a great landing; it didn't seem very different from landings at other airports, and it was good to get up and stretch! (Well, everyone did make sure they got up and moved around several times during the flight; but it's not the same as that feeling when you get off the plane!)
The support staff in Kangerlussuaq greeted us and we had a whorl wind introduction to operations. We arrived at about 4:00 p.m. Kanger time, and needed to get our gear on the pallets for the Summit flight before dinner at 6:00 p.m. That meant trying on our polar gear (snowpants, fleece pants, fleece jacket, snow jacket, neck gaiter, 2 pair gloves, and heavy duty wind shell; we brought our own thermal underwear and wool socks) and then repacking so that we could stow most of our stuff.
We met the team members from Greenland and Denmark at dinner. They had arrived much earlier and spent the day exploring the town. Since some of the flights had people awake for 23 hours, we had a very short after dinner meeting; first, a talk about IPY by Henning Thing from the Danish Polar Center. Then, we gave our week a theme, so that we could relate all the many projects we would see and hear about together. Our theme is 'sampling' and how that concept plays a role in every science experiment; whether it is a social science project about the changing cultures of the Arctic, measuring respiration gases from caribou, or halogen levels in snow. We'll working on getting some resources for everyone.
When we were just about done with our meetings, we learned that we should prepare for an 8:30 a.m. flight to Summit Camp. Time for bed! It's been a wonderful, but long, day and we still have a lot ahead of us.
~ Kathy Gorski