Greenland, no-go

The unattainable prize

Update: July 16, 2017

A geyser in Iceland

Our expectations were high, but they were dashed when the news from North Sailing came to us late Sunday afternoon. There is too much ice and bad weather blocking our sail to Greenland. It is therefore, not safe for us to sail for Greenland as we had hoped and planned. This put Greenland, once again, out of our reach. On Friday, July 19, 2013 Julia and I attempted to land at Qaqortoq, on the southwest of Greenland. But then, as now, ice-flows stopped us from landing on this allusive island.

We are disappointed, that is certain, but we are impressed with the North Sailing team’s prioritization of safety over adventure.

Leaving the USA

This leaves us in Iceland for an extended stay, which is quite an opportunity as Iceland is a vast wonderland just waiting to be explored. Back in 2013 we visited Isafjordur, Akureyri, and Seydisfjordur, which are in the northwest, north, and northeast of this volcanic, glaser-covered, river strewn place. We plan to explore hinterland of Iceland this time around and I’m sure we’ll enjoy our time here, but Greenland will forever call to us.

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Greenland

The frozen ocean

Update: 7/9/2017

https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews

Oh, my Darwin last week we received a call from North Sailing, the folks conducting our sailing tour of Greenland. They suggested that there had been so much ice-melt this year that we might not be able to get into the Scoresby Sound as planned, due to ice blocking our path. We were all disappointed with this news.

This prompted me to collect satellite images of Greenland to monitor the progress of the ice. Here is what I have collected, so far, of the ice-melt at Greenland this year:

http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/Ittoqqortoormiit.uk.php

In May there was a slow start to the melt season. However, in June the ice began to retreat at a faster than average rate. On July 2, Arctic sea ice extent was at the same level recorded in 2012. In September 2012, the sea ice extent reached its lowest in the satellite record.

As you can see from the ice-flow around Greenland, it does seem to be retreating. But, our problem got worse when I found another satellite image of the Scoresby Sound. I discovered that the entrance to the Sound was blocked with a large plug of ice. The plug is breaking up, but whether it will have cleared, in time for our trip, is up to Odin, or Darwin, or the god of randomness.

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Greenland and Iceland

Getting ready to go!

Oh, my Darwin!

Julia and I are so excited about our up and coming trip to the frozen lands of Greenland and Iceland. All our plans are in place for our Greenland Scoresby Sound sailing adventure and thanks to our friend Cindy, all our plans and accommodation are set, for our Iceland hinterland tour too.

Greenland is located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans and east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though geographically it is a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for more than a thousand years. Thanks to the Vikings Greenland is specifically controlled by Norway and Denmark, as well as the nearby island of Iceland. However, most of its residents are Inuit, whose ancestors began migrating from the Canadian mainland in the 13th century, gradually settling across the island.

Greenland is the world’s largest island. Australia, although larger, is generally considered to be a continental landmass rather than an island. Three-quarters of Greenland is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside Antarctica. With a population of about 56,480 (as of 2013), it is the least densely populated country in the world. The Arctic Umiaq Line ferry acts as a lifeline for western Greenland, connecting the various cities and settlements. But, our Greenland Scoresby Sound sailing adventure takes us to the northeastern side of this frozen island to some of the remotest locations on the planet.

The animals we might see include: Polar bears, musk oxen, caribou, arctic foxes, hares, eagles, ptarmigan, lemmings and the rare Arctic wolf. Arctic wolves are found only in the most northern areas so there is not much hope of us seeing one of these wonderful creatures, but who knows.

Arctic wolf

All along the west coast, as well as, in large parts of the east coast there are herds of reindeer, which each year migrate long distances between the interior and the coast in search of food, and to reach summer calving grounds near the ice cap.

reindeer

In the interface between land and sea is the home of the polar bear, this Greenlandic white coated bear is especially common in Northern and Eastern Greenland, where it hunts from the sea ice. In Southern Greenland, it comes ashore after drifting on the sea ice from the East Coast. The Greenland polar bear hunts seals and birds and often during summer will go on shore to consume vegetation. The bears usually do not hibernate during winter.

The hen-like ptarmigan changes color between summer and winter and is always camouflaged regardless of the season, yet it can never be sure of fast-moving threats from above. The white-tailed eagle and the Greenland falcons are its formidable predators.

ptarmigan

The birds in Greenland are as varied as their names are unique. From small buntings, siskin and sparrows to guillemots, puffins, auks, terns, kittiwakes, gulls, ravens, owls, the great northern diver, the fulmar, the cormorant, the goose, the eider duck, the merganser, the sandpiper, sand runs, Turnstone, and the Arctic skua among many others.

Greenland falcons

Whales tend to steal the limelight when it comes to marine animals in Greenland, and perhaps not without reason, because they are easy to spot and are so magnificent.

Jumping humpback whales, killer whales on hunting sprees, and fast narwhals that zip in between cracks in the sea ice are just some of the whales in this remote wonderland. Other whales we might see include mink whales, beluga whales, blue whales, sperm whales, fin whales and, of course the Greenland whale.

Greenland whale

But the sea also has many seal species of which the harbor seal, the hooded seal, the bearded seal, the Greenland seal, and the polar bear’s favorite food, the ringed seal, are among the most common.

Greenland seal

The walrus is the big boy in the marine class in Greenland. It can weigh up to a ton. With tusks that are up to 50 centimeters long, it’s hard to miss this beast. When it is resting on an ice flow it can seem somewhat on the slow and heavy side, but in the water the walrus is an agile swimmer, mostly feeding on snails and clams.

In addition, there is a wide variety of fish and shellfish to be found in Greenland, some of the most important are cod, shrimp, crab, halibut, redfish, lumpfish, salmon and the Arctic char, coveted by anglers. They are all part of the vast Greenland food chain, which also includes human beings. I just hope, it doesn’t include this human being.

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