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All 'Ore' Nothing

Five geology students on their upcoming rocky expedition

“A lot of geologists love rocks,” said third-year Geology student Henry Lodge, “but a lot of geologists don’t want to get wet, cold, and hungry.” For Lodge and his four peers, however, their shared love of geology might just overpower their pressing need for a summer-long academic hiatus spent in the comforts of home. 

On 23 May, these five Geology students — or @the_greenland_5, as they are known on Instagram — will fly from Edinburgh to Copenhagen and then from Copenhagen to the southwest of Greenland. They will then be picked up by boat, ferried across a fjord, and dropped off a six-kilometre trek from their designated campsite. 

“I’m a bit into the outdoors, I guess,” said Lodge. “Henry would rather live in a tent than in a house,” fellow third-year Geology student Ula Filipowicz clarified. 

The Greenland trip has been Lodge’s brainchild since around August, when he heard that the University had sent students to Greenland on previous expeditions. “[I was] frantically texting people on the course, like ‘How would you feel about coming away with me for six to ten weeks over summer? It's gonna be a lot of work, but it should be a good time’,” he recalled. 

While the School of Geology requires students to complete a geological mapping assignment of some kind, most opt for the local (and consequently less risky) alternative. Though widespread student hesitation to embark on a journey to the Arctic Circle opens the opportunity for generous funding from geological grants, the group explained. 

“[The University has] a history with funding bodies, so [funding groups are] aware of what the school has already done in Greenland,” said third-year Geology student Archie Davies, “and now that we'd like to further build upon what the school's already done there, it’s put us in a really fortunate position.”

And what’s more — scientists aren’t totally sure of what’s going on in the area geologically. “[We’re going] somewhere [where] we don't really know what to expect,” Lodge explained. “We have some suspicions of what might be there, but [...] no one has really, really gone to see exactly what's here.” 

In return for their financial contributions, these geological funds do expect something in return, said Lodge: “They want us to come to their annual conferences and give talks about what we used their money for,” he said. “[Share] how it went [and] have a little storytime of all the adventures we got up to.” 

“[By] receiving this funding, we can contribute to the scientific community because this part of the world has not been mapped,” said Filipowicz, “so by us going there and mapping, it will add towards the general knowledge of the geology of Greenland.”

Third-year Geology student Thorfin Gunn likened the group’s highly-anticipated geological research to colouring books. “We do lots of colouring,” he mused. “We’ve got colouring that we’re doing this week for at least one assignment.” 

He’s not too far off, Lodge explained. “We'll walk out to find a big outcrop of rocks, decide what we think the rocks are to the best of our knowledge, and then they'll get a scheme in our map,” he said. “We'll just sort of walk around everywhere each day, just looking at the rocks.” 

Ultimately, the purpose of the group going on the expedition is to satisfy the demands of their fourth-year dissertation. “The mapping is the same for everyone,” explained Filipowicz, “but then after that we can wander off and make the interpretation that is specific to our [dissertation] topic.” 

The work doesn’t begin when they get there, though — if anything, that’s just the beginning. In addition to applying for funds, the group has also had to arduously prepare countless boxes of basic survival necessities — most of which are piled up in Gunn’s bedroom. 

“Tomorrow we have a little date with drilling holes in boxes,” said Filipowicz. 

“This is all on top of our academic work,” Davies clarified. “This is in our lunch breaks and over dinner, and anytime we finish labs and lectures — [we] go back to Thorfin’s room and pack and unpack and carry boxes all around St Andrews.”

This extensive packing goes hand in hand with the team’s safety protocols in place, ensuring that every potential emergency has been taken into consideration and prepared for. “Every risk and everything has been thought through twice and three times,” said Davies. “There's nothing that doesn't have a redundancy plan, or a plan B, a plan C, or a plan D.”

This includes the very real threat of one of the region’s, if not the world’s, most notorious predators — polar bears. 

The team insisted that they would store their food in a separate tent, receive radio messages informing them of local bear sightings, and have flares at the ready. “The last resort is how quick [you can] run,” added Davies. 

Despite these measures, however, the team still feels a healthy dose of nerves — and for what they admit to be good reason. “It'll be wet. We’ll be cold. There's gonna be no fresh food for six weeks or something,” said Lodge. “The novelty will be gone by the first week,” Davies added. 

They also shared that their friends and families expressed similar concerns. At the news of her expedition, Filipowicz’s mother requested that her father be the next-of-kin instead: “One of the first questions she asked me was [...] ‘Does insurance cover transporting the body back to the UK?’”

Though the team admitted that their concerns are less about their safety and more about fulfilling academic expectations. “What I'm actually kind of worried about, is that we're gonna go there and it's gonna turn out we're not as good of geologists as we think we are,” admitted Filipowicz.

“I think it’s fair to say, for me personally, I’ve got a considerably bigger fear of disappointing my lecturers than I do of getting eaten by a bear,” added Gunn. 

Yet each student assured that the School of Geology has been working alongside them throughout the entire process — from the advisor guiding them through funding applications to the frequent words of encouragement from professors. 

“If we get another piece of funding we get multiple emails saying, ‘Oh my god, well done guys, we’re so proud of you, keep going,’” said Filipowicz. “Which I also think definitely motivates us to keep going, to keep pushing.” 

Having connections to those brave enough to have made the journey and lived to tell the tale also helps: “We were asking one of the PhD students two days ago where she got her long-life tortillas,” said Filipowicz.

As the day of their departure draws nearer, the group’s collective excitement only grows. Davies said he’s looking forward to growing a beard and long hair. “I'm quite looking forward to coming back looking like a lost islander,” he said.

This giddiness almost makes Lodge wish he’d had the expedition as a goal in sight much sooner. “I just didn’t realise people could go and do such adventurous things,” he admitted. “I wish that someone had told me earlier [...] I guess it would’ve been something to look forward to.” 

“This is a serious part of our degree, but it’s also very fun,” said Filipowicz. “You can do this — I don’t think we’re special. I think if you just put in the work and you’re willing to commit, you can do this.”

Photo: Henry Lodge


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