Polar Podcasts

14: Bjørn Thomassen – One Man Expedition in East Greenland

September 29, 2020 Julie Hollis Season 1 Episode 14
Polar Podcasts
14: Bjørn Thomassen – One Man Expedition in East Greenland
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we hear from Bjørn Thomassen, emeritus senior scientist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, about his one man expedition in East Greenland while working for the Nordic Mining Company in 1973, an expedition that subsequently resulted in extensive exploration for copper. 


14: Bjørn Thomassen – One Man Expedition in East Greenland

Based on interviews held on September 30 – October 2, 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.


Bjørn 0:01

And then they sailed me down and they should put me ashore. Problem was that we were stopped by the ice. So they left me in a small dinghy with two outboard motors.

Julie 0:11

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 Bjørn Thomassen, emeritus senior scientist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, about his one man expedition in East Greenland while working for the Nordic Mining Company in 1973, an expedition that subsequently resulted in extensive exploration for copper.

Bjørn 0:57

In the summer of 1973, I’d been working for four years for the mining company because I started out as a summer assistant and then they offered me a permanent job as a student helper. And that was a cozy small company in those days er, in the 70s because there was the old director,  Viggo Brinch, and the secretary taking the phone. And then the young er, Austrian er, mining engineer Erik Hintsteiner, who was exploration manager and who had actually taken the initiative to give the, start prospecting, not the director. And the reason why they didn’t kill the er, company after the lead-zinc mine was empty in 1962 was that in the meantime they found these, these very large molybdenum deposits called Malmbjerg. And they drilled it and made ore reserve calculations and there’s a very large, world-class, the world’s third largest er, molybdenum deposit in those days in the 70s. Er, problem was, it was the grade, the metal concentration. That was a bit too low to make it a good business. Especially because it’s situated in that place between two glaciers. To mine it you have to excavate a three (11) kilometer long tunnel out to Mestersvig to er, to get the ore out. Er, so, but it was nearly there. So with a bit higher molybdenum price on the world market, it would be a feasible operation and they would start mining. So that was kept alive in the company because the company had a licence, a very good licence, a fifty years licence covering the whole of East Greenland for both exploration and mining. So as long as the economy was right, they could do it. Er, but it came to nothing.

And then, in the meantime, Erik Hintsteiner started up er, exploration and er, he had been a mining engineer at the lead-zinc mine and he, he fell for Greenland, he was taken in by Greenland and wanted to work there. So actually, he worked (went) up to the, one of the major shareholders er, Knud Lauritzen, ship owner, and proposed to start mineral exploration. And he was allowed to do that for the interest of the shared capital, which was one and a half million crowns. And for that sort of money, they could, on top of running that office of three person, they could hire me in as a student helper, which they did. So with a permanent staff of four. And then hire in summer people from that Austrian university. And er, er hire a helicopter for the summer and, and do the exploration in, in that manner.

So that had been going on in 69, 70, 71, 72. In 73 there was no exploration because there was an er, evaluation of the work we had did. So there was no field season. That summer of evaluation we had some specialists coming down from Outokumpu and er, Boliden to, to check the report and the quality of the work we had done and eventually they said it’s ok, we can, you can continue. But that summer, as I said, no exploration.

Then Erik Hintsteiner, he was keen to go to Greenland. He said, “But we on, on, on fixed salary, we can go up there because there would be no extra expenditure for the company.” So Erik Hintsteiner, he went up and sailed around on a boat in Scoresbysund and had a good time. And I was sent up with, with a ship, supply ship. And er, two boulders had been found the previous summer with, with copper and galena. And I should travel down to Wegener Halvø er, southeast of Mestersvig. And check out er, what was the story of those two boulders because we’d never seen anything like that before. Er, the boulders consisted of er, sandstone and the cements in er, the sandstone, they were, in one sample it was a copper mineral, black copper mineral, chalcocite and the other, er the grey copper er, lead mineral called galena. Unusual as it turned out. Usually ore, ore minerals they sit in veins, in quartz veins, or like in, in granites like in, in Malmbjerg. So why, why are they sitting in sediments?

So anyway, I went down there and the story was I should be sailed down by the crew on, on the er airfield, Mestersvig, which was er, was a telestation, a radio station, so they were radio operators. I should  help them, unload the ship, which I did and then they sailed me down to Wegener Halvø. And they should put me ashore next to that locality. Problem was that we were stopped by the ice. So they left me and they had to go back to the airfield, doing their radio things. So they left me in a small er dinghy, aluminium dinghy with two outboard motors. Two and half metres long. And er, so I had equipment er, food er, camping gear. And a radio, er Racal radio, which never worked by the way. And a rifle of course. Er, sitting in that boat, they said, “You just wait to midnight and, and the high tide will open you er, you know a channel along the coast. You can go round (that was in) Kap Brown, 25 km in(to) Nathorst Fjord and you can walk in to, to er, the area you’re interested.” 

So I was sitting there, at Kap Brown, til midnight. It’s a midnight sun, sun is shining, beautiful weather, er sky clear and nothing happened. I thought, well, it’s er, I can’t just sit here. So I turned the boat and er, full speed ahead 25 km to the bottom of Fleming Fjord, which is on the west side of er, Wegener Halvø. Suddenly I went on, on this mud bank – boop! So. And then I waited, that was 500 m from the coast. So I started to, er shallow water, I mean, but there’s a delta from Pingel  Dal. One of those big streams, muddy delta. So I started to carry the gear in, back and forth to the dinghy. And when it was empty I could haul it in and secure it.

And then the next problem was that I was in the wrong fjord. So I had to cross over the pass, over to the east side of the root of the peninsula in what’s called Devondal, Devondal. Um, and I, it took a day, and I had to walk two times, especially because of that very heavy radio, which never worked because of the blackout. So, in those days radios didn’t work with those blackouts, radio blackouts. Something with sunspots and things like that. Anyway, so I spent two days there back and forth. And the deal was those people, they will come in ten days and pick me up in the same place where they left me.

So I walked in there and then I had six days on the locality and investigated and found outcropping this beautiful sequence, sedimentary sequence in the Permo-Triassic

Julie 7:54

The Permo-Triassic is a period of geological time from about 300 until about 200 million years ago.

Bjørn 8:01

with seven separate er, horizons with mineralization. Various sorts o  f mineralization, various rock types, er mainly copper but also er, lead mineralization. Those are the two main elements. And um, I thought great! And I (had) never heard about sedimentary ores at that time. I thought that I knew everything after I spent two years at university but er, apparently I didn’t. But I learned that. So er, I had eaten my food so instead I put er, rock samples in my rucksack and carried them back, two days. Back and forth. And er, found my boat and got it in the water and sailed up to that hut. And was waiting for the people and they came and picked me up. And er, everything went beautiful but er, it was er, what I call my one, one person expedition. And I am quite sure it was not allowed, would not be allowed these days. 

Julie 8:58

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

Julie 9:06

In the next episode, we hear from emeritus senior scientist Agnete Steenfelt about starting out with the Geological Survey of Greenland exploring for uranium in 1972.