Dwarf Juniper Clings to Boulder above Skjoldungensund, Greenland
    This dwarf juniper above Skjoldungensund, Greenland was the tallest-growing plant around, by virtue of closely hugging a boulder to gain some headway above the surrounding Arctic tundra.


    Greenland is known as a pretty harsh place, end even during our mid-summer visit it was evident that life clinging to the margin of land seaward of the ice shelf has very special adaptations to survive in the Arctic environment. Exposed rock was very common, sometimes with wonderfully colored lichen gardens blotching the surface and sometimes still bare from the last glacier paring down the surface just a few thousand years ago. Vegetation there grows as Arctic tundra, a fantastic miniature mix of lichens, mosses, and flowering plants seldom growing taller than a few centimeters. In well protected areas stunted versions of willows, junipers, birch, and mountain ash might get waist high, but the climate is too unforgiving to allow for any taller growth.

    Alpine Tundra, Nanortalik, Greenland
    Even in southern Greenland the ground is dominated by bare rock and miniature plants, mosses, and lichens in Arctic tundra biomes. The colors and shapes are fantastic but you have to get on hands and knees to appreciate the tiny details such as this little tundra tableau in Nanortalik.

    At first glance the icy protected waters of Greenland's extensive fjords seem even more barren, with only the occasional sea birds or seals to indicate any life at all. But the scarce birds and marine mammals belie a rich biological treasure trove underwater, protected from the harsh weather conditions above sea level. Even when wind-blown snows seal the slopes and ice paves the fjords with frozen caps for over half the year, these underwater biomes provide a stable environment that is home to a profusion of life only accessible by divers or submersibles.

    Ice and Eiders, Skjoldungensund, Greenland
    The waters of Skjoldungensund, Greenland seemed pretty empty except for ice but occasionally sea birds provided a nice accent, such as this line of Common Eiders cruising by the edge of a blocky iceberg.

    Male Hooded Seal, Skjoldungensund, Greenland
    A male Hooded Seal lounging on a bergy bit in the mouth of Skjoldungensund, Greenland was an expedition highlight for about all of the guests and guides. When displaying for the attention of females or to intimidate other males, these guys inflate their nose and blow up a balloon-like sack from one of their nostrils. It's a neat trick- check it out! http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/animals/mammals-animals/seals-and-manatees/weirdest-hooded-seal/

    Sea birds and seals have the diving part down, but for us to get a glimpse requires SCUBASelf Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus gear or a submarine. Fortunately, the National Geographic Explorer comes equipped with both! Master diver Dennis Comejo was aboard as our Undersea Specialist and led dives at multiple moorings. He also deployed the ship's Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), a tethered small submarine with lights and cameras but no humans aboard. Dennis shared his findings with near-nightly video highlights at the daily recap meeting, and was kind enough to share two of his short dive films from the trip with me to pass along on my PolarTREC page. In the first we find Dennis and his team on a SCUBASelf Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus dive in Qaqortoq fjord. The second video features ROV footage from Brattahlid. The ROV is capable of deeper dives than a SCUBASelf Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus-equipped diver- note how the deep water environment and the life there differs from the shallower life zone. In the ROV video, the bottom sediment is very fine "rock flour", material ground from bedrock by glaciers and brought into the fjord by runoff streams and rivers where it eventually settles to the bottom. If you have questions about anything you see in either video (or about anything else, for that matter), let me know in the Ask the Team section.



    That's all for now! Best- Bill