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