Research from a kayak: expedition to western Greenland | Polarjournal
Mike Keen will probably have to weave his way through the numerous icebergs and boulders in the waters off Ilulissat (Photo: Julia Hager)

Englishman Mike Keen has been paddling his kayak along the coast of western Greenland since the end of April. He is driven by a thirst for adventure, but he also hopes to draw attention to climate change in the Arctic. At the same time, he is lending a hand to several research projects

Mike Keen — chef, paddler, traveler and adventurer — left a few days ago for a highly unusual expedition: he will paddle a kayak from Qaqortoq, in the south of Greenland, to Qaanaaq (Thule), in the far north. As he travels, he wants to leave as little an ecological footprint as possible. He hopes the trip will raise awareness of climate change in the Arctic, but the trip will also allow him to contribute to two important research projects.

Mike Keen will paddle his kayak most of the distance from Qaqortoq to Qaanaaq (Thule) alone. Occasionally, however, people living in the hamlets he paddles past, as well as well-known personalities, will accompany him for short stretches (Map: GoogleEarth)

Greenland is not sheltered from marine microplastic pollution. And, with many in Greenland relying on the ocean as a source of their food, microplastics are a potential health threat. Mr Keen will collect fecal samples from marine mammals for scientific research. The samples will be sent to Nuuk and from there to various laboratories where they will hopefully reveal how microplastic pollution affects animals at the top of the food chain. In this way, he is helping to monitor microplastic concentrations along the coast.

His efforts to limit his ecological footprint during this expedition are also reflected in his diet. As a chef, Mr Keen follows a principle he calls “eat your environment”, and it is one that he expects to respect during his expedition. On his journey, his menu will consist of fermented eggs from eider ducks, mattak (whale skin and the layer of fat underneath) or kiviaq (dovekie fermented in sealskin, a traditional winter dish). Keen’s goal is to raise people’s awareness of his message that the global food system is illogical and destructive.

For the westernised palate, Greenlandic specialties may be a challenge, but they are no obstacle for Mike Keen. In this video, he explains what kiviaq is, and of course tries dovekie

In the second research project Mr Keen is contributing to, researchers are studying the bacteria of the human digestive system. A team of microbiologists will analyse the food Mr Keen eats, the bacteria it contains and stool samples, in the hopes that it sheds light on the effects of diet on his gut microbiome, physiology and mental well-being. The research team is hoping to determine how a diet consisting primarily of fish and marine mammals affects an organism accustomed to a Western diet. In addition, they will study whether the concentration of microplastics, pollutants and heavy metals increases as a result of the almost exclusive consumption of marine animals.

Mr Keen plans to cover the 3,000-kilometer route in two or three months, but factors like icebergs, polar bears, sea ice, whales, weather and tides will play a major role in determining his progress. Apart from occasional overnight stays in huts or with people living in coastal hamlets, he will sleep in wilderness in a tent, though not without various precautionary measures against unwanted polar-bear encounters.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Related links
Mike Keen’s website
Mike Keen’s Instagram

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