First-person field report: Glacial history in eastern Greenland

Hello! My name is Laura Levy and I am a PhD candidate at Dartmouth College. I study how the Greenland Ice Sheet and small glaciers in Greenland have responded to natural climate change during the current interglacial period (the Holocene epoch; ~11,650 years ago to the present) as a baseline for future conditions.  During the past two summers I have traveled to Scoresby Sund in eastern Greenland, with Meredith Kelly (my advisor at Dartmouth), Tom Lowell (University of Cincinnati) and Brenda Hall (University of Maine) and their graduate students. We’ve also had the pleasure of working with collaborators Ole Bennike (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) and Yarrow Axford (Northwestern University). Polar Field Services provided logistical support both years and I’ve been asked to share some photos of our day-to-day life and fieldwork.

Transportation to the Scoresby Sund region (like many places in the Arctic) is a challenge! To get to our field sites we fly to Reykjavik, Iceland then on to Akureyri, Iceland and finally to Constable Point, eastern Greenland.

Once in Constable Point we spend a day sorting our stored/shipped gear and food in one of the hangars.  Note the copious amounts of peanut butter in lower left corner of photo!

We then fly to our field sites via Air Greenland helicopter. Graduate students Aaron Medford (University of Maine) and Paul Wilcox (University of Cincinnati) are all smiles headed into the field.

Once in the field, we set up camp. Finding a soft, flat spot for sleeping is rare in this region! But we did have a nice view of the ice cap in the background.

We use our cook tent for food storage, eating meals, and as our conference room. In the below photo, Meredith Kelly, Paul Wilcox, Brenda Hall, and Yarrow Axford use the cook tent as a sheltered place to study satellite imagery of the region and review bathymetry (bottom) maps of lakes.

We use various methods to determine how the glaciers in the Scoresby Sund region have changed during the Holocene.  One way is by extracting sediment cores from lakes that are down valley from glaciers.  We can study the changes in lake sediments and learn how the up-valley glacier has fluctuated over time. In the photo below, Tom and Aaron prepare a new coring tube while I (far right) label and wrap a freshly retrieved sediment core.

Another way we can learn about how glaciers have changed is by dating the glacier deposits that mark their past extents. The line of light grey boulders in the above photo (upper right to lower left) represents a past extent of the glacier (which has now retreated to the right, off the photo). We can use a dating technique called surface exposure dating using the isotope beryllium-10 to determine how long the boulders have been exposed to the atmosphere, which we interpret to be the timing of glacier retreat. In the photo below, Bill Honsaker (University of Cincinnati) and I take numerous measurements on a boulder before sampling it for beryllium-10 dating.

Once we have extracted sediment cores from a lake, we have to move all our gear to the next lake by foot. Just going a few hundred meters can be quite a challenge in this region (note the boat with legs!).

Bill and Meredith carry pontoons for our coring rig from one lake to another.

Although the Scoresby Sund region offers a host of complex logistics and tough terrain, it is also an incredibly beautiful and pristine place.


Getting home after our field season can also be an adventure. You can see a video of some of the logistics to our long journey home here:

Thanks for reading!


Do you have questions for this early-career scientist? Send them to us at We’ll get answers from Laura and post them here for others to see.