Blog: Greenland Cultural Exchange Expedition 2023


By Nigel Williams, Trustee and Principle Guide

Expedition Overview

As the team of six young people came from four schools, they were initially fairly quiet, but this didn’t last long. The staff team were joined by Dr Jerome Mayaud who has been helping the Polar Academy develop a range of simple scientific experiments which could be carried out in the summer and winter over a number of years. The data gathered will support the work of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and the Geological Survey of Denmark (GEUS) which may in the long term provide data to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The science element would be new to Arianna, Bruce and Iona.

The outline plan was for a 5-day trek north up the main valley and back and to get beyond Lake 1 and up towards Lake 5. There would also be some fishing and the science data collection. Overall, it was to be a relaxed and enjoyable trek with no fixed destination. Following the main trek, we would undertake a few local day walks with fishing opportunities and prepare the stores and food for the 2024 winter expedition. We would also be joined by a second small party looking for evidence of early Viking settlers around the island of Ammassalik this was separate from the Polar Academy programme.

Although our expedition was meant to be part of an exchange programme with some local Greenlandic youth coming to Scotland this summer, other opportunities for the Greenlanders precluded this from happening. However, Craig and the youth leaders in Tasiilaq have identified a number of other opportunities for the future.

Pre-Expedition Preparation

The flight programme to Greenland and Tasiilaq went smoothly.

Day 1: We travelled from Glasgow to Iceland where we stayed for one night, the Start Hostel in Keflavik is an excellent option rather than going into Reykjavik. The staffing, food and accommodation is better than the International Hostels in Reykjavik and it is only 10 minutes from the airport. It means we miss out on the cultural aspects of the capital city but, in my opinion, the Start Hostel is a better option. 

Day 2: The rest of the travel went smoothly and we were settled in the house in Tasiilaq by early afternoon.

Day 3: We checked the state of the winter expedition equipment and fuel for the 2024 expedition and sorted and packed equipment for our 5-day trek. The rucksacks would be generally equivalent to a gold Duke of Edinburgh award rucksack, around 17kg and that was for 5 days food and parts of the bear fence.

Day 4: An early start on a beautiful blue-sky day which would last for most of the trek. 07.30 we were ferried by boat across the bay in two groups. The boat threaded a route through the many small icebergs to save us around an 8km walk around the bay. By late morning we arrived at Lake 1 and found a camp site at a beach at the south end of the lake. The afternoon involved fishing, science, general exploration card games. The team was plagued by flies and a few mosquitos which made life a little unpleasant and would dominate the campsite decision making for the rest of the trip. It just needed a gentle fresh breeze to keep them away. The midge nets were an essential item of kit.

Day 5: We woke early to a stunning morning view over Lake 1 and packed up the camp. There are faint signs of a footpath from time to time, but it took about four hours over challenging ground to make our way around to the north end of Lake 1 where we spent some time deciding on the next camp site. A transect of micro plastic collection was set out along with some more fishing. We would stay here for two nights which would enable a light day sac to go exploring further north and leave us an easy two days walk back to Tasiilaq.

Day 6: The group decided to split into a fishing team and a walking team to go as far north as possible. We all went over a low ridge and dropped down to Lake 2 where Jerome explained the eDNA experiments and data collection, before the team split. Both parties had a successful day. The fishermen caught and returned a number of arctic charr back into the lake and the walking team reached Lake 3. Jerome went on alone up to Lake 5 and did an eDNA test there which we had done in the previous winter but it failed to record any results. We also found a potential campsite for the winter expedition at the north end of Lake 2.

One of the things this summer trek enables us to do is to check on a few of the winter camp sites for any sign of our passing and in particular signs of human waste. It was pleasing to see there were none. It was also notable but not surprising that the water level of the lakes in summer is around a meter higher than in the winter. 

Day 7: We returned along the edge of Lake 1, this proved to be quite arduous for some of the young folk with some tumbles on the rough ground, a broken walking pole, an impressive reaction to drinking a couple of litres of cold water in one go and a river crossing. We knew of several possible camps site options to put us within a few hours of Tasiilaq and chose a breezy (reduced flies and mosquitos) and contained site by a small loch. Jerome organised a biodiversity activity and within 15 minutes the team had come up with 37 different plants/fungi/lichen examples.

Day 8: Walk back to Tasiilaq around the bay, some of the team got close with a beached mini-iceberg, and we crossed the so called “bridge” marked on the map.

Day 9: A relaxed day – We visited the museum and local craft shops where there are carvings and Greenlandic jewellery. Jerome headed back home. 

Day 10: We went for a short walk up the valley of the flowers before the second team arrived and settled in.

Day 11: A walk and some coastal fishing on the Tasiilaq peninsular. We saw an arctic fox in the distance and whilst fishing a seal came up close to see what we were up to, which is probably why no fish were caught.

Day 12: Poured with rain for 24 hours, a food inventory for the winter expedition and packing up to be at the Heliport for 07.00 the following morning.

Day 13 & 14: A relatively smooth journey home despite a change of plane due to technical problem in Iceland made for a delay of an hour and half. Once in Glasgow, there was a warm welcome from the families.


Jerome made a big impact on the expedition and with the help of the team carried out a series of data collection activities.

  • Placed 4 temperature loggers which could remain in place for over 10 years.
  • Placed out 5 transepts involving 56 micro plastic collection dishes.
  • Collected 3 eDNA samples from Lake 2, Lake 5 and the sea in the bay.

We look forward to seeing the results. Details of the experiments can be found in another post.

At the end of our journey in Iceland, we had a review of the trip. The young people had had a great time and felt it had been a successful trip. They had grown hugely in self-confidence and achieved more than they thought possible when they began the expedition.