Thule, Greenland Research Site

Date: 
15 August 1997

Thule, Greenland: A High Arctic Research Site.

The recent acquisition by the National Science Foundation (NSF) of
equipment and building space at Thule Air Base provides an excellent
logistic center for High Arctic studies both in summer and in winter. NSF
acquired the equipment and space to provide additional logistics
capabilities for researchers working in northern Greenland and on the
Arctic Ocean ice cap. While not terribly expensive to maintain, that
capability will not continue if there is a lack of interest on the part of
the arctic research community. NSF would like to hear about potential
applications of the Thule logistics hub so that a decision can be made to
hold onto the Thule site or transfer equipment, etc. to the PICO logistics
facility in southern Greenland (Kangerlussuaq, former Sondestrom Air Base).

Thule is located on the north-west coast of Greenland at 77oN latitude on a
peninsula which is bordered by the northern end of Baffin Bay to the west
and the Greenland Ice Sheet to the east. The peninsula is dominated by a
mixture of bedrock types including large amounts of glacial till. Access
into the surrounding landscapes is possible by truck as a large road
network exists to support the old missile launch sites left over from the
cold war. Thule Air Base (TAB) is a dominant feature on the landscape as it
is a relatively large military installation with extensive housing and
storage facilities. Thule Air Base provides an excellent logistic center
for High Arctic studies both in summer and in winter. In both seasons the
Air Force has weekly flights from NJ to Thule providing reliable access at
a rate of approximately $900 round-trip to NJ. TAB has excellent lodging
and dining facilities including individual rooms and common showers and
bath. The dinning hall serves three meals a day and lodging and dining
costs $20 per day. Food is available at the Base Exchange including frozen
meats and fresh vegetables and the North Star Inn has cooking facilities on
the second floor, for self catering. A full kitchen is available for use
including a large refrigerator and freezer.

Logistical and technical support for field research is available through
Greenland Contractors who maintain a staff of Danish employees who can be
employed to assist in construction projects and periodic measurements. In
addition, Greenland Air maintains a helicopter at TAB which can be hired
for logistical support and field studies. NSF can task PICO to support PIs
with their own staff or make arrangements through Greenland Contractors and
Greenland Air.

NSF has recently acquired a large equipment pool from the U.S. Navy that is
stored at Thule. That equipment was used by Navy to support ice camps (part
of it will be used at SHEBA) but could also be used to support
terrestrial/icecap field programs that require Thule as a logistics hub.
PICO is in charge of that equipment pool and will work with NSF-supported
researchers to provide equipment if tasked to do so by NSF.

Within driving distance and hiking, there are large tracts of the
surrounding landscape which are undisturbed including extensive areas of
polar deserts where plant cover is less than 10% dominated by Salix and
Dryas. These sites are typically found higher in elevation than the Air
Base with very little apparent snow cover in winter as evidenced by a lack
of melt water. To the east and north of TAB, large tracks of classic polar
semi-desert exist where vegetation cover approaches 50%, and soil sorting
is very active as noted by frost boils and sorted circles. These areas are
dominated by Salix, Dryas, Carex, Cassiope and Saxifraga with moss and
lichens present. These ecosystems are very similar to polar deserts on
Ellesmere Island and Svalbard, Norway. Species-rich polar oasis's which are
undisturbed are also found in the areas surrounding TAB. These areas are
typically wetter than the polar desert or semi-desert sites. Nearby snow
beds add moisture to these habitats and plant cover approaches 75%, soil
sorting is prevalent and the species of dominance are Salix, Dryas,
Cassiope, Saxifraga, Carex. The last major ecosystem which is prevalent in
the TAB region is one that is mire-like adjacent to fresh water lakes which
dot the landscape. These wet sedge ecosystems have standing water, high
degrees of organic matter in the soil and are dominated by Carex species.

As stated in the beginning of this message, NSF would like to hear about
potential applications of the Thule logistics hub so that a decision can be
made either to hold onto the Thule site or transfer equipment, etc. to the
PICO logistics facility in southern Greenland (Kangerlussuaq, former
Sondestrom Air Base).

If you need additional information contact: Jeff Welker (jeff@uwyo.edu) or
Michael H. Jones (mhjones@uwyo.edu) at the University of Wyoming.
END