Distance learning

Geologists from the NPD are helping to explore the Wandel Sea Basin in northern Greenland in order to discover more about the stratigraphy of the south-western Barents Sea.
  • Bente Bergøy

Musk oxen can be found in northern Greenland

Musk oxen can be found in northern Greenland.

(Photos: Hans-Ivar Sjulstad)


The logic behind this work is that these two regions were geograph-ically close to each other before seabed spreading in the North Atlantic accelerated 65 million years ago.

“As the northernmost sedimentary basin exposed on land, the Wandel Sea Basin is off the beaten track – to put it mildly – and little studied,” says NPD project manager Hans-Ivar Sjulstad.

“We’re due to study stratigraphy and structures at a number of locations in this area over three summers.”

Field work began last year, and is due to finish next summer. Sjulstad and his colleagues will then compile palaeogeographic charts for several geological periods. These will focus in detail on the south-western margin of the Barents Sea.

Palaeogeography is the science of geographical conditions in earlier geological periods, and applies mainly to the study of former landforms.

Sjulstad explains that the previous field campaign in the Wandel Sea Basin was more then 30 years ago, but that the National Geological Survey for Denmark and Greenland (GUES) is now at work in this inaccessible area.

“So we took the opportunity to join forces. We’re working independently as a separate team, but collaborate in such areas as using transport planes and helicopters. We also lease camp and depot equipment from GUES.”

Plans call for him and fellow NPD geologist Hilde Krogh to be in northern Greenland from 10 July to 9 August before spending a few days at Longyearbyen in Svalbard.

They will then head for the South Cape/Horn Sound area in the Arctic archipelago to continue geological field work for another two weeks until returning home on 28 August.

A local Danish military facility serves as the base camp for northern Greenland. The two are due to investigate a number of sites from three camps, all about a hour by helicopter from base.

That means living in tents between 81-83°N, among musk oxen and Arctic foxes. But Sjulstad says they are well prepared, with safety and first-aid courses and thorough weapons training.

“This part of Greenland is virtually an Arctic desert, where a tough landscape features much ice-shattered rock as well as unconsolidated sediments deposited by meltwater and glaciers,” he explains.

“There’s also a good deal of snow and ice. During the summer, the temperature usually fluctuates between -2°C and 6°C.” He and another NPD geologist, Harald Brekke, spent two and a half weeks in the area last year, when they scaled three mountain-sides which form the main features around Owlet Valley.

In addition to producing detailed sedimentological field logs, the pair worked on large-scale structural geology and took samples.

The expedition provided much new knowledge, with all the geo- logical formations studied proving to have different deposition environments than had been assumed in earlier literature.

That represented essential new information for the palaeo-geographic maps which are to be produced, Sjulstad explains.

“Exposure there is fairly good. The deposits form big sandstone formations which represent potential reservoirs for oil and gas.

“These structures could extend into the south-western Barents Sea, which increases the probability of discovering good reservoirs there.”

He and Brekke explored the Mesozoic era (250-65 million years ago) in western Greenland, while this summer’s expedition will primarily look at the second half of the Palaeozoic (360-250 million years back).


Wild and beautiful

Wild and beautiful.
The geology of the Arctic desert in northern Greenland has features in common with the south-western margin of the Barents Sea.


The 2014 expedition will be heading for Bear Island midway between Svalbard and the Norwegian mainland, where both Palaeozoic and Mesozoic formations will be studied.

Most of the oil found in the Barents Sea lies in rocks 245-160 million years old – in other words, from the first half of the Mesozoic. But a number of relevant Palaeozoic plays also exist.


Two sleeping tents and one for cooking in the NPD’s summer camp at Owlet Valley during 2012

Two sleeping tents and one for cooking in the NPD’s summer camp at Owlet Valley during 2012. Geologists Hans-Ivar Sjulstad and Hilde Krogh will be leading the same simple life this summer.