Odd Machinery, Dogs, and Fossils

What do these three things have in common? Well they are all part of my childhood dreams, and none of them are at Summit, Greenland. More weather delays today as the winds at Summit picked up again to be (just barely) above the threshold for landing. More tantalizing still, a perfectly good 12 hr weather window offered by mother nature passed last night outside the window of the Air National Guard’s flying schedule. With Mike’s background as a ship captain and Zoe and my research work typically requiring us to work any hours we get from nature, we’re used to a bit different rhythm than that of a peacetime military bureaucracy. Needless to say our zen about airplanes is becoming a bit strained and we’re ready to get out on our own.

To maintain calm we decided to try reverse psychology – assuming that making very concrete and important plans for the next day right where we are that require the airplane not fly will make it decide to go. No luck. After getting up early and hanging around all morning doing some computer work and hoping for a drop in the winds, it appeared we were going to have to make good on our ‘very important’ plans to go fossil hunting, see the dog kennel, and check out the cold war era machinery parked about the airstrip end of town. Starting to sound a bit like a vacation, but rest assured I put my hours in at the computer today too!

Mike and I have both spent a lot of time around end-of-the road places in the North country. A common theme across them all is that large, interesting pieces of equipment are brought into these places for reasons like fishing, mining, or military efforts, but are seldom removed. The leavings, often still in use long after the original owner departs, are always interesting and usually parked right along the street ready for the inquisitive mind to ponder and poke at. Kangerlussuaq’s collection did not disappoint.

Tracked vehicles everywhere

A combination of my two favorite words – skiing and bulldozer. This thing must be fun!


Twin turbo 600 kw cummins diesel generator. Tim from “Home Improvement” would be proud if we installed this in our sled.

The dog kennel outside town, where all the sled dogs are kept, was our next stop, following up on Mike’s visit in better light to get much-requested pictures and tussle with the cute fellows. The Greenland dogs – selected by Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amudsen for their expeditions across Greenland and to the south pole, respectively, are both beautiful and amazing. Here they are still in full winter coats. We were greeted by the pack leaders from each respective team, which don’t seem to get tied up. Each was friendly and playful. A big fellow lept right into Mike’s arms, another bowed playfully to Zoe, and a third wrested with me, licked hands and rolled over for belly rubs. At least in the moment we all wished we could trade in our smelly, oily snow machines for a pack of these beauties. If they weren’t cute enough already, peering around a corner in the kennel led us to a small out-of-the-way hose where a mother was nursing a young litter.


Mike’s new buddy.




The size of these dogs is amazing. Big paws, big heads, and 3 inch thick coats.





Moving along quickly before some of those puppies ended up in our back packs, we headed out to the fossil grounds. I haven’t been able to get the story about who first discovered them, but the bluffs along the edge of the fjord contain a good smathering of fossil fish and shells. The bluffs were actually formed as sediment deposited in the bottom of the fjord over the past few thousand years. As the glaciers have retreated since the last ice age, un-weighting the earth’s surface, the land here in Greenland is actually rebounding. As the land rebounds, successive river deltas have been lifted up out of the sea for us to explore.


An ancient river delta raised out of the sea as the land rebounds from the weight of the last ice age’s glaciers.

The fossils, which are only a few thousand years old, are actually found in the loose silt and clay deposits, within small “cementations”. The presence of decaying organic matter in the form of a clam or fish induces the deposition of calcium carbonate which binds the sediment into a small rock-like formation around the fossil. These cementations are eroding out of the delta material here and there, providing us the opportunity carefully split them open to see what may be preserved within. The results? Amazing! We found a few almost perfectly preserved fish skeletons, with the original cartilage tissue not entirely mineralized yet.


A fine fish fossil photo! (If I do say so myself)

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