Fieldwork 2014: Cross-disciplinary Expedition to Qimusseriarsuaq / Melville Bay

The first NOW fieldwork took place during the summer of 2014. With the intention of making an integrated and cross-disciplinary fieldwork we chartered a vessel that could serve as a floating field station and facilitate conversations across disciplines from the outset.
Having our own ship allowed the team to go ashore where normally it would have been impossible due to the lack of any form of public transport.
Here we show a few sites and moments where the interdisciplinary encounters took place. 

Route map of the chartered ship Minna Martek’s movement in the region, with some of the landings indicated. Minor movements, for sheltered anchor places for instance are not marked.


Savissivik is the southernmost settlement in the Thule region, and home to some 45 people. The population is declining, which is partly related to the noticeable changes in climate and sea-ice conditions that increasingly cut the settlement off from other parts of the region and from their usual hunting grounds.

Little auks are plenty on the mountain slopes behind Savissivik from late May to mid August, and almost everyone is able to catch a substantial dinner for the family.

A vhf data reception station is established by biologists in the little auk colony by Savissivik. 15 little auks were caught and instrumented with GPS loggers that record their tracks during foraging trips in the North Water. When the birds return to the colony to feed their chicks, the gps data is downloaded by the station.

Researchers from three disciplines engage with a structure of stones of possible archaeological importance. Learning to read the multi-layered historical landscapes through the eyes of archaeologists. 

Qeqertaq / Salveø

This little island has a rich depository of both prehistoric and historical settlements, an abundance of little auks on the mountain slopes, deep layers of moss and turf, and it serves as both a hunting place for people from Savissivik and as a sledge route towards the North, when the ice westwards towards Cape York has become impassable – which it is for a protracted season these years.

Salve Ø, panorama towards southeast. Here all of the scientific disciplines meet in a joint effort at analysing the complex process of development through changing climates and emerging colonial relations.

Picture of net capture of little aucks. Feather, blood and tissue samples were obtained from little aucks and other marine birds to compare with Hg (and SI) exposure of humans, lakes as well as from pre-industrial feather samples. These data will be combined with series of data on hard tissue (teeth, baleens, hair an, feathers from other wildlife from past and present collections.

The field camp at the southern coast of Qeqertaq (Salve Ø). View towards west with Cape York in the background. (Photo: Bjarne Grønnow, 2014)

The guano from the immense little auk colonies has significant effects on the landscape and we hope to learn about the history of the colonies by analysing changes in the sedimentation over the last circa 10,000 years from lakes in the drainage areas.

Issuissoq / Parker Snow Bay

Abandoned settlement in Parker Snow Bay (Issuissoq), 2014.

Paakitsoq / "Søkongedal"

A time-lapse photo monitoring box is being prepared for deployment in a little auk colony. The camera takes pictures at specified time intervals throughout a whole year. This yields a wealth of information on the phenology of the birds and attendance patterns throughout the breeding season.

Thousands of birds in the air at the little auk breeding colony of Paakitsoq. The little auks breed in crevices between the boulders on the talus slopes. Paakitsoq is one of the largest little auk colonies in the southern part of the Thule District and archaeological remains in the valley testify to past exploitation of this abundant resource (Photo: Kasper L. Johansen).

Mikkel Sørensen, Bjarne Grønnow and Kasper Johansen investigate the ruin of a shelter at the base of the Little Auk cliff in Søkongedalen. The shelter was used by bird hunters visiting the valley for brief periods.