Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Greenlandic Glaciers



Eqip Glacier, Greenland

It's hard to get used to the sound of icebergs hitting the boat - even though, approaching the glacier, the sound is constant. Thunk, thunk, thunk against the bow as we move forwards. They say a Greenlandic iceberg sank the Titanic, and it's hard to shake that image from your mind as our little boat progresses slowly through a field of ice.

But you can't have a glacier without ice, and what makes Eqip (prounounced, roughly, ey-krip) special is that there's ice falling off the end almost constantly. It's one of the most productive calving glaciers in the region, and that makes it a tourist hotspot, because everyone wants to see big lumps of ice crashing into the sea. Well, I say hotspot. This is Greenland: we see one other boat.

When we get close enough the captain kills the engine and we wait, shivering under cold grey skies. The glacier towers above us, an endless wall of white and blue, dirty with streaks of black moraine. We're still quite a distance from the face. Although it's quiet now, there's constant danger, and being hit by falling ice is a risk we don't want to take.

We hear action before we see it, cracking that sounds like gunshots echoing across the water. We look around but the water is still glassy, undisturbed. It must have been something breaking loose further inland, within the body of the glacier. The next false alarm is a nearby iceberg flipping, which makes waves and a lot of noise, but is nothing we couldn't have seen from the shore.

Half an hour later and there's been no more progress, though we've heard plenty of ice cracking somewhere out of sight. Most of us go inside to warm up and eat our sandwiches, though we're still peering out of the windows as we eat, waiting for something to happen. One guy stays outside, video camera still focused on the ice, sure it'll go soon and not wanting to miss his chance.

There are busy days and slow days, the captain explains. You can't really predict which you'll get... today is looking like a slow one. But even on slow days, we'd expect to see one or two avalanches before we have to turn and go back to Ilulissat.

Suddenly someone jumps to their feet, pointing out of the window, and we all run outside just in time to see a cloud of ice-dust hitting the sea. Now it's started to perform, no-one wants to go back inside. Lunch is left abandoned on the table as we start the waiting game yet again. Then a big collapse comes, and sets the boat rocking as the waves spread out. Thunk, thunk... more icebergs bounce off the boat. We're getting quite relaxed about it now. The falling ice looks like tiny pieces, hardly more than dust, but the icebergs surrounding the boat tell a very different story. It's hard to get a sense of perspective against a face that's five kilometres long and over a hundred metres high.

We're witnessing the birth of some pretty serious icebergs, and it's easy to believe one of these might have taken out a ship. Still, on the journey back we've become quite blasé, and we're far too interested in the gyrfalcon hunting alongside the boat to worry about the constant assault of ice against the hull.

This post was originally published in 2010 as a guest blog on a now-defunct travel site, so I thought I'd resurrect it here.


Eqip glacier, Greenland

Eqip Glacier, Greenland


4 comments:

Elizabeth Braun said...

I'm glad you did resurrect it, Rachel, that was fasciating, thanks! You're one of the two people I know who've visited Greenland.=)

I was thinking about you a couple of hours ago as I was looking at my pitiful travel maps and wondering how your post-PhD travel plans were progressing?? Do tell! I can't travel myself for a while yet owing to financial and physical limitations, but I do love to hear about others' trips and plans.

Tabor said...

What a great post to resurrect! You describe it so well. It does make me sad, though. Knowing how long it takes to create these magnificent glaciers.

Rachel said...

It's an astonishing sight, isn't it - not to mention an astonishing noise!

A Cuban In London said...

That was a great post with a beautiful (if cold-looking) photo. Thanks for bringing it back from the dead.

Greetings from London.

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