Fair Weather

There are certain guarantees with each summer field season in Greenland: 24-hour light and mosquitoes. The rest, particularly the weather, is unpredictable. Storms can ravage the ice, darkening the sky and invading field camps with wind and worse. And then there can be summers like the one that’s wrapping up. Kangarlussuaq, July 12, 2009. What's missing? Rain, sleet, and clouds. Photo courtesy Mark Begnaud

March was very cool, and winter was slow to release its grip,” says Polar Field Service’s Greenland Operations Manager, Mark Begnaud. “It didn’t warm up until June, but once it got warm, it stayed warm for a long time.” As in 23 degrees Celsius warm—downright balmy for the Arctic.

On average, coastal temperatures in June average between one and eight degrees Celsius, according to weather data from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Further north and inland, Thule temperatures range minus one and five degrees Celsius. July and August typically average between three and eleven degrees Celsius, and two to eight degrees Celsius in Thule. In Kangerlussuaq, where Begnaud helms the logistics support for the National Science Foundation’s arctic research program, “we got an extended bit of nice weather with no rain.” Wild blueberries that generally peak mid- to late-August have shriveled in the constant sun, he said.

So what’s behind the warm weather?  Data shows that to date, summer temperatures in the northern hemisphere in 2009 are among the warmest on record. According to Dr. John Christy, director of the University of Alabama at Huntsville’s Earth System Science Center, the global average temperature jumped 0.41 degrees Celsius from June to July, due in part to an El Nino Pacific Ocean warming event.

In Greenland, the fair weather “really benefits science,” says Begnaud. “When the field researchers are camping in a tent and it is cold and clammy it’s not fun. When the weather’s nice, the flights run on schedule, and the logistics are easier.”

Fair weather keeps the Summit staff (and the scientists they support) happy. Photo courtesy Mark Begnaud.