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Entry Six: Departures

 

Departures

On August 2nd, the group began to split up, as some team members had to return to their institutes sooner than others. Finn and Steve flew by helicopter to Astartekløft, further up the Hurry Inlet and then on to the airport later the same evening, ready to leave Greenland within the next few days. It had long been planned that these two sedimentologists would travel together to Astartekløft to enable them to settle some “differences of opinion” about its geology. This would have been done during the visit two years previously, but Finn had been unable to view the site after he sustained a serious fracture fording a river. Meanwhile, the remainder of the team (Mihai, Dave and myself) were to spend one more day at Kap Stewart tying up some loose ends before our move to Constable Pynt and the start of a preliminary assessment of the Primula Elv section. Our original plan had called for us to start work on this locality one and a half weeks earlier, but collecting of plant fossils, as well as the geological importance of the South Tancrediakløft section, had kept us at Kap Stewart longer than expected. The 3rd of August came, and with it torrential rain. No one wanted to move the camp in this weather, but the helicopter was booked and, unless visibility dropped, the move would go ahead as planned. Our personal tents were soaked, but that wasn’t important to us as long as the boxes full of fossil plant samples were kept dry. These had all been packed in the base-tent, and we wrapped the boxes in a huge tarp, before taking the tent down around them. We then stood in the pouring rain, waiting for the chopper to arrive. Our return to Constable Pynt felt very strange. This small airfield in the middle of nowhere felt like Times Square, as it seemed so busy in comparison to the isolation of the last three weeks. We were surprised, on our return, to find Finn still there, as he was supposed to have flown early. We learned the flight was delayed due to the weather, as the runway was too soft for take off of the Fokker 50’s. As it continued to rain, Steve, Dave, Mihai and I decided not to re-pitch camp, but rather to use the accommodation in the bunkhouse for at least one night. Later that day, Finn was able to depart on a smaller, lighter aircraft and was on his way to Iceland and then home. Finn’s departure left us all feeling as though our expedition was coming to a close. The rain resumed in earnest the following day (4th August), and we thought we were going to have Steve’s company for yet another day, as he was evicted from his flight due to tightened weight restrictions (caused by the sodden runway). As with Finn, a smaller aircraft was able to land later that day, and we said goodbye to Steve as he was shuttled off to Iceland. Mihai, Dave and I now had to work up our enthusiasm to climb the Primula Elv section and to start our survey of this locality. Our first outing up this valley took place in the pouring rain, which prevented us from reaching any of the potential fossil sites that were visible, as the river was very high and could not be forded safely. However, on the second day, although we could not ford the river, we were able to climb its northern banks. Again, we almost immediately found good fossils, in fact of greater diversity than had been reported by Harris in the 1930’s. Our efforts were temporarily interrupted by one of the local huskies kicking head sized rocks down onto us as she raced up the cliffs. These dogs are retired-Sirius Sledge patrol dogs, which form part of one of the most unusual police forces in the world. The Sirius Sledge Patrol was first established in 1933, and operated throughout the Second World War. The officers now act as rangers and patrol the world’s largest national park (in northeast Greenland) on four month sled trips that cover hundreds of miles, in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. At last, on our last day of collecting we were able to ford the Primula Elv (elv means stream) and get to our target gully. The wait proved worthwhile, as we found four plant horizons and many more plant species than had previously been identified from this locality. This was a site well worth revisiting and, with luck, will form part of our next expedition to investigate the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction. Collecting over, it was now time for us to pack our gear. After three and a half weeks of collecting, we had over half a ton of fossils, each individually wrapped and labeled. These specimens were now carefully boxed for their long journey back to the Field Museum by container ship. Once everything was packed, we waited for our flight but, as with Finn and Steve before us, the sodden runway caused delays. This time, we did not depart the same day, so we had an unexpected extra night in Greenland. Finally, ready to leave on the 8th, we weighed in our personal goods. Although Constable Pynt is a tiny airfield, manned by about 10 people, our bags were X-rayed and we were searched: this is after all, an International Airport!

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