Dusty hits the town

Most of the work on the Dusty project to date has focused on environmental science aspects. But we wanted to know how dust affects the 538 residents in the town of Kangerlussuaq. Located right at the head of the fjord, the town is located next to the sandur plains caused by deposition of glacial silts.

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Photo of the sandur plains (James Shilland)

We wanted to find out what local people think about dust. Whether it impacts their health and behaviour. What they know about where the dust derives from, and whether they perceive changes in the frequency and intensity of dust storms. So, we packed away the rucksacks and got out our clipboards, to survey local residents.


Suzanne, Albrekt and Amanda getting ready for a hard day of clipboarding

Anticipating some difficulties with translation, we enlisted the help of Albrekt Wille, a local Greenlander who is fluent in Danish and English as well as (of course) Greenlandic. As it turned out the language posed fewer problems that we anticipated with many local residents speaking all three languages.

We set up a survey station in the local Minimart for the first day, assisted by with cookies freshly-baked by Amanda as an incentive to persuade people to participate.

Two following days were spent visiting local businesses including the Airport Authority, Air Greenland, local shops, the museum, local hotels and the police station to identify residents who had spent a range of time living in Kangerlussuaq.

Of course it was thirsty work visiting all of these places.

Back in Nottingham we will be working with Nick Clare from the School of Geography and Benedict Watling, an undergraduate on our Q Step programme to analyse the results from the questionnaire survey.


Back for more: Dust and lake sampling + Pelagic Bioassays!

Clay Prater on the spring sampling for the Dusty project

The spring field season in Greenland kicked off with plenty to do. Rebecca and Clay came up early to set up the lab and collect dust samples. It was a good idea to begin with dust sampling as we saw snow cover on some of the lakes flying in and the ice-free season seemed to lag behind a couple of weeks compared to last year.


As you might expect, the winter winds (and possibly some hunters) can play havoc on our dust sampling equipment, so we spent a bit of time mending our traps while sampling dust at each lake. Rebecca’s knot tying skills were especially handy here!

After the dust sampling, we were joined by two veteran volunteers James Shilland and Maddy Giles for the lake work. With their help, we collected water quality and biological samples across our focal study lakes.

We also brought back water from each lake to setup dust bioassays to see how nutrient additions from dust influence microbial production.

One day while working we were lucky enough to get treated to a proper Kangerlussuaq dust storm . After seeing thick clouds blanket the valley, it’s not hard to imagine the importance of dust inputs into lakes in this region.

Towards the end of the trip, we were joined by Bror Holmgren from who helped finish up last-minute field work and take down the bioassays. Luckily, he didn’t hold it against us that England knocked his Swedish team of the World Cup!

Overall, our campaign was a lot of fun and we collected some important data. Now we will rest and recharge before heading back out in August.


Finding Zen with the mosquitos; and other musings from the field

Amanda O’Byrne, technician on the Dusty project tells us about her trip @AmandaMerle1

When I tell people I’m coming to Greenland in July they often ask what is it like that time of year? Most already know about the 24 hours of light, the icesheet melt and maybe even about the tundra going into bloom. But what tends to surprise is when I describe the incessant mosquito population.


Greenland flora selections spotted hiking down from SS906. Photos: Amanda

This July has been no disappointment in terms of our buzzing, blood thirsty friends/fiends. Mosquitos essentially leave us with three options:

  1. Cover yourself with DEET. This is reasonably effective, but it is hard not to be put-off by the coughing fit that ensues with spray applications. Thus, although occasionally necessary to maintain sanity, I try to leave this as a last resort.
  2. Cover yourself with impenetrable clothing. Here is where the battle of wits and instinct is won. Rain proof clothing is most effective, but turning yourself into a greenhouse is not always ideal. So you wear some trousers they can’t seem to get through, assuming you don’t forget to zip up the mesh lined pockets, don the mosquito head net and wriggle into some latex lab gloves. This is my field attire. This is my battle wear.
  3. Get bit. A lot.


Mosquitos not birds. Photo: Rowan

For Suzanne McGowan, Rowan Dejardin and myself, this season’s trip to Kangerlussuaq entailed setting up mesocosm experiments. Our aim is to investigate the hypothesized ‘fertilizing’ effect of the dust being blown into the local lakes. By building mesocosms which seal a section of the lake from the surface to the benthic sediment from the rest of the lack we can add dust and measure the response. We can look at how adding dust might stimulate benthic epiphytic growth or increase benthic diatom presence, as just two examples. We also wanted to see how this response may vary between different lakes, especially between three lakes that appear to get differing natural levels of yearly dust inputs. Will a lake that has regular dust input show a lesser response than one which gets very little dust over the year?

Rowan and Suzanne installing the mescosms in SS17B Photo: Amanda

Although we set-up mesocosms in only three lakes, this still required several days of hiking. First the mesocosms had to be installed, which involved getting a little wet! After a couple of days of letting everything settle, we returned to add the take initial timepoint measurements and add the dust! After letting the mesocosms ‘cook’ for a couple of weeks we then took final timepoint measurements. We are currently taking our fourth hike out to each site to pull out the structures and leave the lakes as we found them.

With so much to do each time, sampling requires a division of labor. Since Suzanne is capable of balancing and manoeuvering in the small inflatable boat in a manner which would have undoubtedly seen me overboard, she took charge of collecting the water and sediments from the individual mesocosms.

Suzanne sampling the mesocosms with the small-boatsmanship of a true limnologist. Photos: Amanda

This means I got the filtering tasks. To some this would be the short straw, but I could not work in phytoplankton ecology if I hadn’t long ago made peace with the process of pouring water from one container to another and watching it drip through a filter. The quirk of this process in the Greenlandic summer is doing all of this through the veil of the mosquito head net. You also figure out tricks along the way. Like your feet work well to keep filter rigs from tipping over, and the pack frame can double as a portable lab table. Eventually the drip of the water, the squeak of the hand vacuum pumps, and the buzz of the mosquito cloud merge to create a sort of Arctic symphony. It becomes almost comforting in its regularity, until you are jolted from your reverie by a mossie which somehow found its way into your head net! Then panic ensues. All part of the fun of Arctic research!

Filtering fun. Photos: Amanda

It’s the time of year for soil science

Maud van Souest, PhD student at Loughborough University studying the effects of dust deposition on soil development reports from the field.

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And we are back! Halfway through the third and last field visit of the project’s first year. The group is a bit bigger this time with seven people focused on different parts of the project. Keechy Akkerman, Clay Prater, Adam Heathcote, Tom Mockford and Rebecca McKenzie set foot on the Greenlandic soil for the first time. John Anderson is, of course, the veteran of the group (it’s his 22nd field season in Greenland) and Maud van Soest is well on her way.

Today, our main task of was to move all the scientific, and less scientific equipment, that is stored here at KISS to another building (also known as moving all of John’s junk, according to Adam). The weather was supposed to be very bad, but I think that we could all use a little break of from the long days in the field. It is, however, impressive that we were able to take a break relatively early in the week. We have only one lake left to sample, most of the dust traps are reset and many kilos of soils have been collected. Clay is doing a good job in the lab trying to work out the enzyme experiment and processing the water samples that come back from the field.

One of the biggest problems that we encountered is a bacterial reaction in the dust traps that makes the filtering of the sediments very difficult. A different kind of dust traps (BSNE) is installed to measure the vertical dust flux to be compared with the horizontal deposition. This will allow us to distinguish local reworking from actual dust storms. Last but not least, Tom has worked on installing DustTraks that will be deployed in April next year that measure dust concentration in the air.

Keechy has been taking multiple sediment cores, rock scrapings and aquatic plants for her PhD project in order to get a grip on the spatial variability of primary productivity within the lake. Our visitor Adam was so kind to sit in the boat for at least an hour without a break to make a high resolution bathymetry using a GPS coupled to a SONAR. The last lake we visited, SS1590, was especially interesting in this respect with a complex bathymetry and large lake-level variability, which was observable from the retreated shore line and could be traced back in the long sediment core that Keechy analysed before the fieldwork started.

This field visit is the most important for the soil part of Maud’s PhD, as the active layer of the soils around Kangerlussuaq are only defrosted for a very brief time, and this is the sampling window!. She has been describing the variety of the soils in the 4 lake catchments with dust traps and on the ridge in order to make some soil maps of these areas. She will analyse some of the profiles in more detail in the laboratory over winter.

One more week to go in which we will finish sampling, doing our analysis in the lab and leave everything ready to go for the next field visit in April 2018!





Sampling in the sun

The Dusty team returned to Greenland in June, once the ice on the lakes had melted. What a difference 6 weeks makes. This is a beautiful time of year in Kangerlussuaq, with clear blue skies and warm sun, which made for some stunning hikes out to the sites among the flowers which were in bloom.

Here is a video of the view across lake SS17b  where we were transporting equipment across towards the next site.

The main aims of this trip were to sample waters from a number of lakes across a transect of dust deposition leading away from the ice sheet to monitor the associated patterns of water chemistry and enzyme activity.  Chris also set sediment traps to capture particulates as they settle in the lakes.


We found an especially nice surprise at a new site elegantly named SS17c which had stunning views down the outwash plain, and from which we could see the wind blowing dust up onto the surrounding higher land.


For this trip we had to set up the chemistry lab once more, for analysis of a range of macronutrients and for the enzyme assays. Some long lab days lay ahead, on top of the fieldwork.


We also set up a leaching experiment to determine the release rates of nutrients and other elements from the dust. A dusty job weighing out the aliquots to spike the experiment with!

This was a long day’s work- finishing at 3am, and because we had to sample at 12 hour periods afterwards, Amanda volunteered to do the shift work for the next few days while the rest of the team finished off the field work. The experiment is now doing it’s thing in the growth chamber…


Maud was also in charge of emptying the dust traps which were set on the April trip which will be used to monitor dust deposition.

P1070045Meanwhile, back on the lake, we were sampling the benthos which grow on the bottom of the lake, using core samplers to capture the massive variability in habitats on the bottom of the lakes. Here are some Nostoc spp, a cyanobacteria which grows in very large balls on the bottom of the lake, together with charophytes.

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Added to this, we also using ‘Dusty Cam’ to explore the bottom habitats in the lakes.

The team will be back in August to look at revisit the lakes

Dust, snow and frisbees

The main aim of the field sampling in April was to put up a series of ‘frisbee’ traps to collect dust in the lake catchments across the Kangerlussuaq area from the ice sheet to the mid-fjord area. This required hiking to most sites and occasionally wading through knee deep snowdrifts, given the unusual amounts of snow this year. Great effort by the dust team Maud, Matt, Jo and John for struggling through all of this. The frisbees are now installed doing their thing and will be joined by a two continuous monitoring dust track stations to be put up in the summer.

Meanwhile, we also collected snow samples from the lake surfaces to look at the dust which had collected there over the winter. This was a bit of an unknown, because we did not know how ‘dirty’ the snow would be. So the first samplings involved digging large snow pits and backpacking the snow from the lakes. Again, not easy in deep snow. We also collected lake water samples by boring through the lake ice.

Back at the lab, the snow was melted and filtered, revealing much higher dust quantities that we expected, and meaning that it was probably not necessary to collect so much snow. A useful pilot study. The rest of the time was spent analysing the chemistry of the snow and lake waters, and packing up samples for analysis back in the UK.


First time in Kangerlussuaq

Loughborough PhD Student Maud Van-Souest who will be looking at dust-soil interactions in Kangerlussuaq gives us her first impressions:

It has been a week ago already since I made my first steps on the Greenlandic soil. John Anderson, Joanna Bullard, Matthew Baddock and I took the plane from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq on the 20th of April. We have had some magnificent views over the icecap during the flight. One of the first things that John noticed was however that there was way more snow than he expected for this time of the year. That might have cause some problems with the accessibility of the sampling sites. But the sun was working hard and we were about to discover in the following days that it is very normal to wake up and go to bed in a completely different landscape, as sublimation and melting were alternated with periods of fresh snow.



Kangerlussuaq is the main airport of Greenland and not much more than that. The airport is one of the American settlements since the WWII and the small population of about 500 people is almost entirely reliant on the airport and tourist industry. Many scientists stay a few days in Kangerlussuaq to finish the preparations for their fieldwork on the ice or in other remote areas and another few days before they go back home. We are based at KISS (Kangerlussuaq International Science Support) for the full two weeks of this first trip and occupied one of the kitchens and half of the lab space. Especially after we unpacked the pallets and spent some hours in John’s store room (Aladdin’s cave) to install and organise all the equipment.

Ready for the days ahead in the field….

Packed and ready to go

It’s been a busy week since the Dusty project start date on 1 April 2017 (OK perhaps not the best choice of start date…).
We’ve received two ‘Dust trak’ automated monitoring stations which will be used for continuous measurements of dusts along with a weather station. This kit requires some serious battery power to operate in the cold conditions in Greenland.

We also have 30 Hall deposition traps and Fryear dust traps which will be deployed at each lake site to look at local deposition patterns closer to lake sites to be studied in more detail. Added to that are the chemicals we need for analysis and many other smaller pieces of kit that we need for sampling dust and lakes, and you get a massive 8 pallets worth of equipment.

Fortunately, Rebecca McKenzie (pictured left, technician at Loughborough who will be joining the field team in August) and Maud Van Souest (right, PhD student investigating dust in Greenland) were on hand to help with the packing and see off the shipment to Kangerlussuaq, ready for the fieldwork in a few weeks’ time.



New NERC-funded project investgating the impacts of dust on Arctic lakes

A new £700k NERC-funded project due to start in April 2017 will to assess how glacially-derived dust is changing the ecology of Arctic lakes.


The project investigators are from Loughborough University (John Anderson and Jo Bullard), British Geological Survey (Michael Watts) and University of Nottingham (Suzanne McGowan). More information on the project can be found under the Dusty tab.