Polar Podcasts

01: Niels Henriksen – The beginnings of a more than half-century career mapping Greenland

August 04, 2020 Julie Hollis Season 1 Episode 1
Polar Podcasts
01: Niels Henriksen – The beginnings of a more than half-century career mapping Greenland
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Polar Podcasts
01: Niels Henriksen – The beginnings of a more than half-century career mapping Greenland
Aug 04, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Julie Hollis

In this episode we hear from Niels Henriksen, known to many as Oscar, Emeritus senior scientist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, starting as a student with the Geological Survey of Greenland, only six years after the survey was established in 1946.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we hear from Niels Henriksen, known to many as Oscar, Emeritus senior scientist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, starting as a student with the Geological Survey of Greenland, only six years after the survey was established in 1946.

Transcript

01: Niels Henriksen – The beginnings of a more than half-century career mapping Greenland

Based on interviews held on September 26–27, 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark

Note: Polar Podcasts are designed to be heard. If you are able, please listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that is not evident in the transcript.

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Niels 0:01

My first season, I was an assistant to a Finnish geologist and I didn’t get along with him very well. After having spent a month with him, I was very, very clear in my evaluation that I’m absolutely not going to continue with Greenland geology.

Julie 0:18

Welcome to Polar Podcasts, where you’ll hear stories from geologists who’ve spent their careers, their lives, exploring and studying the remarkable and remote geology of Greenland. Why did they become fascinated with Greenland? What were the problems and the discoveries that drove them? And what was it like working in these remote places, where few people venture, even now? I’m Julie Hollis.

In this episode we hear from Niels Henriksen, known to many as Oscar, Emeritus senior scientist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, where he talks about his early years starting as a student with the Geological Survey of Greenland, only six years after the survey was established in 1946.

Niels 1:08

My name is Niels Henriksen and I’m a retired geologist who have been involved in Greenland geology for a long, long time, since 1952 when I started working as a student for the Geological Survey of Greenland. I’ve continued until year 2000, when I retired from the survey. Since then, from 2000 and up til now, which is 2019, I’ve been working at the survey as an emeritus scientist.

I started as a student at the Copenhagen University, where at that time, this was the only place in Denmark where you could study geology. I started not actually as a student in geology but as a natural science student. But after a period of one or two years I decided to focus on the geology. So I skipped the other subjects. I had at that time to earn my own living. So therefore I got a job as a student assistant at the Geological Museum where also the Geological Survey had their rooms and facilities. In that way I got in contact with the people working with Greenland geology. It was younger Danish people who have been involved with Greenland geology since 1945 and up to late 50s. And over the years, when I worked as a student assistant at the museum, I got in personal contact with all the people who was Greenland geologists and working with Greenland. I got in a very fortunate position. I was offered a possibility to join the field work in Greenland after only one year’s study in 1953. This was my first season in Greenland. 

And then, in my time as a student, I visited Greenland working in the field for five seasons in total. The years were 1953 and 54 and then I had my own area in southern West Greenland where I mapped in the seasons of 1956, 57, and 58.

There would probably be something like thirteen to fifteen geologists working with the survey with Greenland material. But they were not employed by the survey. They were employed by the museum and the university and the survey.

Niels 3:24

My first field season in Greenland was as a pure assistant. You had simply to carry the rocks from the geologist and helping them in the field. We were always working in two man parties, which meant that nobody had to stay alone in the tent in the isolated part of Greenland without being together with somebody. So my first season I spent one month in the region to the north of the present capital called Nuuk. At that time it was Godthåb. There I was assistant to a Finnish geologist who was Raimo Lauerma.

We were taken into a camp and were left there, and a month later the boat came back and see if we were still alive. We were living on the north side of the Godthåbsfjord and there was absolutely no possibility to get in contact with the surrounding world, no towns or nothing you could get in to. You had to wait. So if you had broken a leg you had to stay three weeks if you were unlucky. But of course you tried to be aware of these problems so therefore it was accepted. Nobody thought about communication. 

Raimo Lauerma was a very special guy and I didn’t along with him very well. He used me as a servant and I was very cross with that. Some of our colleagues described him as survival of the tundra. But anyway, after having spent a month with him I was very clear in my evaluation of my possibilities was for the future and this was that I’m not, absolutely not going to continue with Greenland geology. So I was prepared to go home.

Niels 5:02

But after the month I got the opportunity to work as an assistant for two young lecturers from the university who later became professors at the university. Their names was Asger Berthelsen and Henrik Sørensen. This was a completely different situation for me. I was very happy and learned a lot about geology and got very good relations to my surroundings. So after a month with them, I was satisfied. I would try another season.

There were very few students at that time studying geology. In the year I started we were only three persons who continued all the way through and got our exams as geologists. So it’s a very different picture from what it is today. There was a very good relation between us and the younger teachers. We were simply absorbed by the system. So we wasn’t treated as students. We were more or less treated as colleagues. So I got a very good relation with all the teachers from a very early time in my study. So that made it easy to be a student at that time.

The students they had their own small society called Steno and there we had meetings every week, all through the autumn semester and again in the spring semester. Those meetings were held in such a way that we simply tried each other out with our possibility to present things. We had to give lectures to each other. That was not a formal thing but something which simply lifted everybody in the student group, they should feel obliged to present a subject, and then there was a number of people sitting in the same room. They were very critical afterwards and told you which wasn’t too good. So that was fine. Your teachers were much nicer.

The teachers at the university were three elder professors, one in hard rock

Julie 6:59

Hard rock geology is the study of magmatic and metamorphic rocks.

Niels 7:04

one in soft rock, which was Professor Rosenkrantz

Julie 7:08

Soft rock geology is the study of sedimentary rocks

Niels 7:12

and one in biology which was studying fossils and learning about stratigraphical systems.

Julie 7:19

Stratigraphy is the study of the relative position of layered sedimentary rocks, one on top of the other, and their relationships in geological time.

Niels 7:29

Those gave lectures at a regular scale and, and it was not very interesting for us to follow these things. Therefore the main part of my education was simply to work with the younger teachers, which were the same people as were working with Greenland affairs. I got a situation which was very fortunate for me. I didn’t receive general education, but in many ways I simply got information from these younger teachers. I could walk in and out of their doors and ask them for things and they took me through the whole thing from the very beginning and to the end when I finished the writing up my thesis. So that was extremely fortunate.

Julie 8:11

I’m Julie Hollis and you’ve been listening to Polar Podcasts.

Julie 8:22

In the next episode, we hear from Emeritus Professor Brian Upton about the unique rare earth element-rich rocks in South Greenland, where he started working in 1955.