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The picturesque landscape of by abstraks


									                                              During the middle ages, the Norsemen established in-land farms as much
                                          as 100 kilometers from the coast where rich pasture lands were located. There

        he picturesque landscape of
                                          they raised vegetables and herded cattle, sheep, and goats for meat, milk,
        western Greenland this summer
                                          and wool.
        will host an international group
                                              At their height, Greenland’s medieval farming communities were home to
of scientists and researchers
                                          as many as 6,000 people.
unraveling mysteries that have been
                                              In addition to being resourceful farmers, the Norsemen were also skilled
locked in the region’s plains and hills
                                          hunters. Their farms were a central part of family and community life and were
for nearly 600 years.
                                          the home base from which people would go walrus, caribou and seal hunting.
  Tom McGovern, from City University
                                              There are a number of possible explanations for why these communities
of New York and the North Atlantic
                                          suddenly died out at the end or the 15th century.
Biocultural Organization, has spent
                                              The 14th and 15th centuries saw rapid changes in climate. Conditions grew
nearly 30 years uncovering a wide range
                                          colder and this could have made the farming more difficult for the Greenlanders,
of archaeological specimens used to
                                          damaging their economy and way of life as a result. “The variation in climate is
piece together a picture of what life was
                                          difficult for farmers to cope with and could have affected the economy,” McGovern
like for medieval north Atlantic farming
communities and why only Greenland’s
                                              Climate change isn’t the only possible culprit. Contact with early Eskimo
Norse farmers suddenly died off around
                                          populations could have had a part in the Greenlanders’ demise as well.
                                              The Norse arrived in Greenland around 1,000 B.C., colonizing the area.
    “This is a classic mystery. We’re
                                          Soon after in 1200 B.C. the Thule, a culture of prehistoric Eskimos, migrated
trying to get an idea why the
                                          to Greenland from the Bering Strait region.They eventually dominated the region
Greenlanders didn’t survive the Middle
                                          and replaced the Norse communities.
Ages,” McGovern said.
                                              Researchers don’t know exactly why the Thule drove Greenland’s Norse
      McGovern, who’s funded by the
                                          communities to extinction, but there are several intriguing possibilities.
National Science Foundation, and
                                             The Thule brought new adaptations to Greenland that may have given them
colleagues Ragnar Edvardsson, Claus
                                          a competitive edge. Resourceful whale hunters, they followed the migratory
Andreasen of the Greenland Museum
                                          patterns of the bowhead whale and made use of tools and equipment like
and Archives and their international
                                          harpoons, umiaks (canoe-like boats) and sleds.
team of researchers, will spend part of
                                             There is also written evidence of conflict between the Thule and the Norse,
the summer season uncovering clues
                                          but it’s unlikely that systematic extermination took place. In fact, it’s quite
that have been buried for centuries.
                                          likely that the Thule’s success was due to more than one contributing factor,
   The work will shed light on the lives
                                          McGovern said.
of Greenland’s medieval farmers, how
                                            A changing climate could have played a role in the extinction of the Norse as
their ancient economy functioned and
how they reacted to the rapidly changing
                                             “A series of instabilities and bad years may have posed problems—fluctuating
climate and landscape—and to an
                                          climate makes farming difficult.”
influx of Eskimos.
                                                                            The cold soils have preserved the delicate artifacts
                                                                          left behind by the Norsemen. Each site is a time
                                                                          capsule offering a glimpse into what life was like
                                                                          and what may have caused the communities to reach
                                                                          their end so soon.
                                                                            McGovern points out that the medieval farms had
                                                                          a hobbit-like appearance. They consisted of stone-
                                                                         areas. Throughout, the floors were covered with
                                                                            “This design was handy if you were feeding animals
                                                                         in the winter,” McGovern noted.
                                                                            The medieval Greenlanders’ ingenuity and survival
 McGovern and colleagues uncover artifacts like this dragon-             skills went far beyond construction and design
shaped pin made from bone, found at a site in Iceland.
Photo: Tom McGovern.
                                                                                                         Continued on Page 4
Congratulations! After 3 months on the trail, the GoNorth!
expedition on 11 May crossed the finish line in Deadhorse,
Alaska. The crew and dogs flew to Fairbanks on the 13th.
“All dogs are sleeping in the sun outside of the VPR Alaska
office, enjoying some down time,” wrote Marin Kuizenga.
Paul Pregont, the expedition leader, started the long drive
back to Minnesota with the dogs 17 May.
  Stay tuned for a feature story on Henry Huntington’s
research (conducted on the trail) in an upcoming issue of
this newsletter. Meanwhile, check out the GoNorth!
website. It’s an award-winning, interactive site aimed to
pull teachers and K-12 students along on the adventure
just ended—and the four others slated to explore the Arctic
over the next 4 years.                                        See you next year! Paul Pregont and the NOMADS dogs.                  Photo: Naomi Whitty.

Yuri Shur (University of Alaska) and team headed to the Matanuska Glacier
last week to continue studies of permafrost degradation.

Vladimir Romanovsky and Kenji Yoshikawa (both University of Alaska) are
working at Toolik Field Station, as drilling of Toolik-area boreholes is
completed in support of their permafrost change studies.

Also at Toolik, a VPR contractor begins drilling 17 May in hopes of supplying
the station with a new water supply. The station now pumps water from
Toolik Lake, but new state requirements will make the effort to find
underground water worthwhile. The crew will use the same rig that drilled
boreholes for Romanovsky and Yoshikawa; the hole is expected to be
anywhere from 100 to 400 feet deep.

INTERNATIONAL News                                                              Drilling for Yoshikawa’s research at the
The Skip Walker (University of Alaska) biocomplexity team arrived in Canada     Kuparuk River, just north of Toolik.
8 May to revisit their frost-boil study sites.        Photo: Jason Neely.

                                                      Researchers with the Mike Steele (University of Washington) -
                                                      led freshwater circulation (or “Switchyard”) project arrived at
                                                      Alert, Canada, on 10 May, with nary a hitch in the deployment
                                                      schedule as weather favored flight operations. The next day,
                                                      Wendy Ermold (also UW) got nice data from two conductivity-
                                                      temperature-depth (CTD) profile casts along her optimal study
                                                      line. And then the fog rolled in. And it stayed, leading Mike
                                                      Steele to wonder, “Perhaps this is “summer” already? Perhaps
                                                      flying in May is becoming a losing proposition?"

                                                      Not to be denied, the group is getting CTD profiles along the
  Wendy Ermold sampling at the Nares Strait.          northern mouth of the Nares Strait—it’s not their optimal site,
  Photo: Applied Physics Lab, UW.                    but at least the helicopter isn’t grounded by fog. Ice conditions
  are a challenge, however, as there are few big floes and lots of brash ice and rubble, Mike reports. Still, he says,
  “pilot John Innis is a magician, finding a suitable landing place amid this junk every time.” Tag along with the
  Switchyard researchers:

VECO Polar Resources • 8110 Shaffer Parkway #150 • Littleton, CO 80127 •                Page 2
                                                         GREENLAND News
                                                         Big island operations got off to a shaky start when Russell
                                                         Huff, a researcher with Koni Steffen’s (University of Colorado)
                                                         climate network project, broke his leg May 1. VPR
                                                         coordinated the effort to have Russ flown by Twin Otter to
                                                         Thule Air Force Base. We’re told that Russ said, as he waited
                                                         on the glacier for the medevac: “I’ll be fine. . . . Just get the
                                                         science done first before we leave here!” Russ was right: he
                                                         is now safely recovering at home.
Russell Huff gets the star treatment at Thule AFB.       arlss_projectsdetail.asp?cbPropNum=NASAAWS)
Photo by Douglas Kahn.
                                                      Koni’s team then continued buzzing around Greenland on
the Twin Otter, doing weather station maintenance. They arrived at Swiss Camp on 8 May, and continued servicing
their stations via snowmobile from there, though the going wasn’t easy due to extensive ice melting. Robin Abbott
reports that Koni thought the melt was happening about a month earlier than he would expect it.

Also at Swiss Camp, the Tom Neumann (University of Vermont) / Ginny Catania (University of Texas) meltwater
study team got caught up on their research after a few problems with equipment and weather early in the month.
They are now considering an early pullout.

The Neumann/Catania team probably got a big push from the weather during the second week of May. High pressure
over the island resulted in “a BEAUTIFUL, PERFECT week all over Greenland!” reports project manager Robin

And it was a stellar week for the Air National Guard, as they flew planes packed to the skin with researchers and
cargo bound for Thule, Station Nord, and Alert, Canada, mostly in support of the North Pole “Switchyard” project (see
international update on page 2).

US researchers with Jim White (University of Colorado) & Claude Laird (University of Kansas) also were put in to
Flade Isblink for the ice-coring project led by the University of Copenhagen. Check out the Flade Isblink team

Elsewhere, the CryoSat 2 validation team led by Liz Morris (Cambridge University), which had to leave Greenland
unexpectedly early in the month, were reestablished on their traverse route. They’re working their validation experiments
as they head to Summit Station.

Summit: Folks have spent May preparing for the wave of researchers expected to roll in on 22 May. But as
Summit project manager Sandy Starkweather points out, “we got off the ground running with science at camp
opening with the arrival of UNAVCO. They installed a permanent GPS station with roving capabilities that can
pinpoint locations in camp to within 1 cm.”

In addition to preparing for the deep drill test, folks added a new vestibule to the back porch of the Big House for
freshie storage, readied the satellite camp for science activities in the clean air sector, and built a medical clinic in
the Green House vestibule.

Kurt Wylegalla (GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam) popped in to check on GFZ Potsdam’s seismometer, which
records global earthquakes.

The Eric Steig (University of Washington) team is preparing to move out to Sat Camp in the clean air sector. http:/

VPR’s Tracy Dahl escorted two engineering students, Nate Hansen (Utah State) and Simon Ouellette (McGill
University) to Summit, each of whom brought a zero-emissions snowmobile for testing, maintenance and user
training at the station. Both machines demonstrated a range of about 9.5 miles on a groomed surface and
showed some get-up-and-go, though Utah State won the race when its machine clocked out at an astonishing 45
VECO Polar Resources • 8110 Shaffer Parkway #150 • Littleton, CO 80127 •                Page 3
Continued from Page 1
techniques. At some sites, there’s evidence of
extensive irrigation systems used to extend the
growing season of pasture plants.
    The well-preserved farm sites contain plenty of
artifacts that McGovern and his team use to come
one step closer to understanding just what happened
to the medieval Greenlanders.
    Using trowels and muscle power the team will
unearth objects like stone and wooden vessels,
fragments of cloth – objects once a part of everyday
life — and even biological specimens, such as insect
remains, animal bones and pollen, to determine the
plants and animals present in the region.
    The soil also holds clues. Experts will study the
soil profile to get an idea of erosion patterns and
possible destabilization of the landscape.                Researchers dig Iceland. From left Noah Zagor (Brooklyn
   But at one site, Quorlortussup located in southwest student), Dr. Sophia Perdikaris (CUNY), Ragnar Edvardsson
                                                          (CUNY), Dr. Mike Church (U Durham, UK) and Jim Woollett (U
Greenland, researchers have only a limited time to
                                                          Laval, Canada). In the distance, other researchers sift soil
collect the centuries-old specimens before they looking for artifacts. Photo: Tom McGovern
disappear again, possibly for good.
   Near by, the country’s first hydroelectric dam is under construction and is scheduled for completion by summer’s
end. Once finished, the dam will flood the area and bury the ancient site under feet of water.
   In addition to the several farm sites in Greenland they’ll be studying, McGovern and his team will travel to the Faroe
Islands and Iceland, a country whose medieval population was nearly ten times the size of Greenland’s, to conduct
similar archaeological work.
   They hope to compare what they find at these other sites to solve the mysterious demise of Greenland’s farmers.
   Many of the artifacts found during McGovern’s Greenland excavations won’t go far from home. With the help and
support of the Greenland National Museum and Archives, the uncovered artifacts will be displayed in local museums.
People in Greenland will have the opportunity to see what life was like for their distant ancestors.
   “Today the local population is tremendously excited. Everything will wind up on display in local museums,” McGovern
said. –Alicia Clarke

    Alicia Clarke is a freelance science journalist based in Haslett,     For more information on this research, visit:
Mich. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology and is currently   
pursuing a master’s in journalism.

                                                RENEWABLE ENERGY News
                                                To support the Darwent/LeMoine archeology group working at Inglefield
                                                Land in Greenland, Tracy Dahl designed a system to provide a reliable
                                                source of AC and DC electricity– but without the noise, fumes and fueling
                                                and maintenance requirements of an engine generator. The “Polar Pod”
                                                can be configured for various types of research, from supplying an AC
                                                power source for running laptop computers, to providing a highly efficient
                                                DC power supply for running sampling and data collection equipment.
                                                  Consisting of only two major components, the Polar Pod can be set up
                                                and taken down with no tools required. Read along while Tracy Dahl
                                                describes what doesn’t really show: “In an effort to make it as small as
                                                possible, I really concentrated on making all of the tolerances really close.
                                                This unit would make an auto engineer nod and mutter incomprehensibly
                                                in approval. For instance, when the lid is closed, the inverter clears the
                                                battery by less than 3/8”. I actually had to sand down the plywood sub-lid
                                                separating them to get the top to close properly. I tell you, it’s wicked-
                                                good.” Darwent/LeMoine research info:
Tracy Dahl tests his “wicked-good” gizmo        arlss_projectsdetail.asp?cbPropNum=0330981
at VECO Southern Colorado. Photo: Tracy

VECO Polar Resources • 8110 Shaffer Parkway #150 • Littleton, CO 80127 •                  Page 4

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