We began with 10 days of work based near Pond Inlet and covering nearly 500 km of terrain stretching from near the northern tip of Baffin to the southern edge of the Barnes Ice Cap. Helicopter support made this all possible. After completing all objectives and more before our stay ended, we moved south to the Qikiqtarjuaq region. Bear problems in this region last year led to a new approach, with everyone staying in a nearby cabin. Bear monitors and a helicopter provided considerably safer working conditions and three new faces with our crew for 9 days. Thick coastal fog had us stuck in our tracks for the first few days, but beautiful weather followed, and we accomplished far more than expected.
Hidden within the vastness of this intimidating and inhospitable landscape are geologic wonders that have seemingly defied the erosive powers of repeated intense glaciations. While some of the most impressive fiords in the world attest to the effect ice sheets can have on a landscape, there are countless examples of areas deeply buried by apparently protective ice during glaciations, frozen to its bed and accomplishing no erosion. Sandstone towers 30 meters tall near Eclipse Sound have been carved and scoured by wind and water more extensively than eerily similar towers in the Utah desert. Remnants of granitic outcrops dot hilltops between widely-spaced fiords southwest of Home Bay, covered in deep weathering pits and shaped into rounded knobs reminiscent of the formations in Joshua Tree. Hilltops near the Barnes Ice Cap lack the expected glacial polish and streamlining seen on similar landforms not deglaciated until 5,000-8,000 years ago elsewhere in the region. And streams on the Borden Peninsula flow through deeply-entrenched meanders in canyons showing evidence of only minimal reshaping by glacial ice.
With hundreds of pounds of new bedrock, till, and colluvium samples in hand, the tedious lab work and numerical modeling begins. Measuring the geochemical compositions and terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide inventories of many of these samples will begin to dominate my time this autumn as the irresistible draw of summertime in the mountains begins to weaken.
Here are some illustrative photos of the work we were doing and the landscape in which we were immersed.
Setting up the GPS system to resurvey a transect up the South Dome of the Barnes Ice Cap to update the melt record that will now span nearly 40 years. The ice in the background is the last remnant of the once-great ice sheet that covered much of Canada and the northernmost part of the US 20,000 years ago.
Hidden sandstone towers, one of the biggest unexpected discoveries on a day spent exploring a very atypical Baffin Island landscape
Kate midway through our trip down the Salmon River in the packrafts. We hiked out of camp, floated the river and it's rapids (some far bigger than expected!) to Eclipse Sound, and then paddled back through the -1.5 deg water among ice bergs to town.
Back in Iqaluit with far too much gear. Fog stranded us here for a few days because both the helicopter and commercial planes were unable to fly
Once we arrived in Qikiqtarjuak, our Inuit guides took us by boat to the field area. We saw a few Bowhead whales en route
Alexis taking a break from digging in the cliffs (containing 2-million-year-old glacial deposits) to watch a Bowhead and Orca fighting in the water
Ma bear and cubs that were unafraid of the helicopter. These bears kept heading upwind toward the lake where Chris and Kate were coring, so the helo pulled them out to avoid any problems.
We visited a few dozen ice caps like these, which have been frozen to the underlying bedrock since they formed sometime in the past 800 years. As they melt, moss and lichens are reexposed and can be dated using radiocarbon to determine the age of the ice cap.
A sense of scale is lacking a bit here, but the walls on the left side of Okoa Fiord are at least 1,700 m tall