The Disappearing Beauty of Greenland
In August 2019, I visited Greenland with group leaders Kerry Koepping and Albert Dross on a tour organised by Iceland Photo Tours. It’s not the easiest place to get to as international flights operate from only Reykjavik and Copenhagen. I fly out to Copenhagen and take a further four and a half hour Air Greenland flight from there to Kangerlussuaq on the west coast of the island and from there fly on to Ilulissat, a small town at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord, where we stay at the Arctic Hotel, probably the northern most hotel of its standard in the world.
The Ilulissat Icefjord, an UNESCO world heritage site, runs west 40 km from the Greenland ice sheet to Disko Bay just south of Ilulissat town. At its eastern end is the Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier (Greenlandic: Sermeq Kujalleq), the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. The glacier flows at a rate of 20–35 m per day, resulting in around 20 billion tonnes of icebergs calved off and passing out of the fjord every year.
Icebergs breaking from the glacier are often so large, up to a kilometre in height, that they are too tall to float down the fjord and lie stuck on the bottom of its shallower areas, sometimes for years, until they are broken up by the force of the glacier and icebergs further up the fjord. On breaking up, the icebergs emerge into the open sea and initially travel north with ocean currents before turning south and running into the Atlantic Ocean. Larger icebergs typically do not melt until they reach 40-45 degrees north, further south than the United Kingdom and level with New York City. The iceberg that sank the Titanic is reputed to have come from here.
Greenland is hot! Quite literally. 2019 was one of the hottest summers on record. The icecap is melting faster than ever before, reaching a level originally predicted for 2070. Greenland is also now a hot place to visit. In 2019, up to three or four cruise ships per day visited Ilulissat (Population 5,000), some with 3,500 passengers and 900 crew. Greenland is ‘hot’ in the media too as during my visit, Trump announced that he wanted to buy the country!
For the purpose of this tour, the company chartered two ‘Rusarc’ sail boats (one of them being a record holder of the first circumnavigation around the Arctic) and split our group of 15 between the two. Each boat is fitted with red sails. They are not functional sails but serve as a great colour contrast against the white icebergs.
Our skilled captains, Daniel and Andrey, communicate by walkie talkie and navigate our sail boats through the ice, sometimes taking hours to find a good composition or a new and interesting iceberg. Each boat in turn may act as a photo model for the other against the ice. We do this every day, leaving harbour at about 6pm and working through the great colours of late sunset at about 10pm and, as we also had moonrise in the evening, on occasion we stayed out till 1am. On two days, we depart late morning and visit coastal settlements.
I hope you enjoy these photos around Disko Bay.