“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” Albert Einstein
Since our first expedition in 2015, the Greenland Caves Project has been pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and exploration in the world’s northernmost caves. In 2015, we began as a small, highly-motivated, 5-person team, working to investigate the potential of the caves in Northeast Greenland for Arctic climate change research. The expedition was hugely successful and after travelling for several days by Twin Otter to a remote landing strip at 80°N, we crossed a 20 km-wide lake in an inflatable boat and hiked for three days in 24-hour sunlight to the caves. We explored, surveyed, documented and photographed far more caves than were previously known about. We also collected valuable calcite samples that contain records of how this sensitive part of the Arctic responds in a warmer world (see our paper in Science Advances), thus contributing to our understanding of long-term climate change in Greenland and the Arctic by covering a time period that is out-of-range of the Greenland ice cores.
In 2018, we extended to the coast of East Greenland in our EAGRE18 expedition, where our primary goal was to explore new cave sites. To reduce the carbon footprint of our expedition, we teamed up with the Top to Top Global Climate Expedition and sailed between Iceland and Greenland.
Starting in 2019, the Greenland Caves Project was funded with a €1.2 million Start Prize from the Austrian Science Fund. We returned to Northeast Greenland in 2019 with an interdisciplinary team of palaeoclimatologists, geologists, glaciologists, and a geo-microbiologist. The expedition was extremely successful, with many new caves being discovered and explored, as well as many new samples being collected for palaeoclimate research.
We are now looking ahead to our ‘Northern Caves 2023 Expedition’. This expedition will explore the most northern-known caves in the world. One cave in particular was photographed from a plane at 81.8°N in Wulff Land during the Cold War. Ever since it has captivated speleologists and polar explorers, but to this day it remains unexplored. Since 1960, many other huge caves have also been photographed in the region as part of geological mapping campaigns, but they too remain unexplored. Supported by a Rolex Award for Enterprise as well as the Mount Everest Foundation, in 2023, we are aiming to finally answer a 60 year-old question as well as find out what lies inside the other caves. We hope once again to collect valuable climate research samples that will be used for improving understanding of long-term climate and environmental change in this remote, sensitive, and little-studied region.