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Salt marshes and splash marshes

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Dr. Tim Dowson joined the Sailing to Siku expedition to research salt marsh development in high latitude Greenland, in the Disko Bugt area. Salt marshes are important archives of information on changes in relative sea level from the Holocene period, as a result of their position at the interface between land and sea, their development controlled by biological, marine and climatic factors. Read full bio here.

I am now on the last leg of my own journey to meet the Arctic Tern at Upernavik, some 200 km north of here. I had a chance to have a look at the coast near to the airport here at Ilulissat yesterday, and while there are lots of salt marsh plants to be found in small clumps, there is little genuine salt marsh as such. This is a ‘high energy’ coastline, both because of the ‘fetch’ – Disko Bay and Baffin Bay beyond it meaning large storms, or even just waves, can batter the coast – and also the hundreds icebergs, large and small, that make Ilulissat so special, can erode away any salt marsh that starts to form, or when rolling over can send big waves which can do the same. So what I’ve found is really ‘splash marsh’ rather than salt marsh proper. I hope to have a chance to look in another, more sheltered bay slightly further away shortly, before my plane leaves – anything I find here will be a bonus but will help build a picture of how sea level has varied in West Greenland over the recent centuries. I’m really excited by this chance to extend our sea level research further north up the coast – as well as to the journey, places and people I will meet, in their own right.

I was told yesterday that it was the first day of autumn here – the weather a bit cooler, with some cold rain at midnight, and fog preventing planes from flying. Certainly a contrast to the 2 weeks of hot weather I had recently further west in Disko Bay, a stark contrast to the torrential rain that stranded my wife across the city from our home in Newcastle, England recently. Unseasonable weather in both places, with the loss of a major bridge at Kangerlussuaq, an important airline hub in Greenland, not because of heavy rain but through hot weather meaning more ice sheet melting has taken place than normal, and the river filling up much more than in the past. These events strike an ominous chord alongside a scientific report I have heard about this morning apparently predicting the loss of all summer ice in just 4 years. This will have dire consequences for local people, wildlife, and also for the world in general.

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