July 3, 2009

Lost in Transit

Assistant Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Science at City College

In preparation for our expedition, we shipped 300 pounds of equipment in six crates. We were very nervous losing control of the equipment, and as it turned out our anxiety was well-founded. Five of the six boxes made it safely to Ilulissat. The missing shipment was a large wooden cratebox containing one of the most critical pieces: the miniature boat that will carry our measuring instruments around the lakes of the ice sheet.

After three days of phone calls to the shipping company in the United States, Denmark and Greenland and being told that the crate was delivered with the other five, after calling post offices in Nuuk and Ilulissat and being asked if I was sure the box wasn’t delivered—as if my contact in Ilulissat could have missed a 70-pound wooden crate, I finally received an email stating that it was sent to an “incorrect facility” and was now being sent to the correct one. Nick Steiner and I were relieved, but not for long. I got a mysterious message saying, “Not enough criteria to find shipment. Please enter more details.” Several phone calls later, I was told the box was in Copenhagen, but that it could not be determined where it was headed because it was the weekend. “You understand this is an experiment we prepared for nine months!” I blurted. “We’ve invested tens of thousand of dollars and major research organizations such as NASA are involved!” It didn’t matter to the person at the other end of the line. Nothing they could do until Monday.

This morning, at 5 a.m., I called again. They said that the box left yesterday from Copenhagen, went to Brussels and was out from the UK. Where to? They said they couldn’t tell me until Monday. I think, now, that our equipment is coming back to NYC so I changed my flight to Monday night. It will push everything back, making things more complicated because flights from Reykjavik to Greenland are only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The whole story is costing more money, besides incredible stress and the chance that we could not perform the most important of our experiments. (We have more to do, luckily). In the meantime, our contact in Ilulissat (an Italian living there for many years) might be able to provide us with a small inflatable boat that we could use to cruise the lakes. We will have to adapt to this situation while there, which could be dangerous because the lakes could drain while we are in and we might not be able to get out on time from the lake. We will have to see what we learn on Monday.