Science at the Summit – the research centre high on Greenland’s ice sheet

September 07, 2023
Jean de Pomereu | Geographical

At the apex of the Greenland ice sheet, a community of 41 scientists and support staff carry out cutting-edge research into everything from climate change to particle physics

For two hours, I had been sitting amid heavy cargo inside the hot, cavernous fuselage of a ski-equipped New York National Air Guard Hercules C-130. Other than the pilots, the aircraft carried just me, two loadmasters and Mike Jayred, a highly reputed ice-coring engineer who has spent the past two decades extracting some of the oldest and most precious climate records ever retrieved from Greenland and Antarctica. Any attempts at conversation were drowned out by the pressurisation, the roar of the propellor engines and our fluorescent earplugs.

As the plane came to a standstill after an almost unnoticeable landing on the snow runway, the loadmasters threw us our bags and frantically directed Mike and me to a small door at the front of the aircraft. The contrast couldn’t have been starker as we stepped out of the darkness and stumbled away from the deafening propellors as quickly as we could, disorientated by the brightness of the sun and reverberation on the snow. ‘Welcome to Summit’, shouted Hope from behind a cold-weather mask that protect her from the –30˚C temperature. She loaded our bags onto a sledge and directed us to the Big House. Propped up on ten-metre stilts, a big white radome on its roof and with the flags of the USA, Greenland and Denmark flapping in unison, the building was unmistakable as the station’s central hub.