80% of Greenland is covered by snow and ice. It is a mass so big that, if it were to melt, the oceans worldwide would rise seven meters, drowning many coastlines, while Greenland would actually rise. Ilulissat is on the west coast where many glaciers and ice flows meet the ocean, including the Ilulissat Ice Fjord and Eqi Glacier, both of which are major tourist attractions due to the melting ice. The Ilulissat Ice Fjord is densely packed with icebergs, moving gradually out to sea at a rate of 19 meters per day, producing 35 cubic kilometers of ice every year. It takes almost three hours to pass through the maze of ice by boat – a distance of 5 kilometers. The Eqi Glacier, which is retreating a rate of 15 meters per year, meets the ocean directly, with massive sheets and chunks of ice dramatically calving into the ocean several times every hour. It is a remarkable and sobering event to witness, the sound of which is reminiscent of approaching thunder or a massive door being slammed shut in an empty room.
Ilulissat, a town of 4500 people, is the hub for tourism in Greenland; it sits at 69 degrees north, 120 miles above the Arctic Circle.The tourists come to see the icebergs which surround Ilusissat in the summer months. English isn’t commonly understood, although the youth appear to know a word or two. There is a stark aspect to the town – water piping strapped to exposed bedrock, sled dogs tied up everywhere and a dusty sports field at the center. However it’s the surrounding ice and the light that draw all of the attention.
I was in the cold and bright of the far north over the past two weeks; instead of computer and ipod, I was consumed by constant daylight and the sound of ice collapsing into the sea.
It took time to accept that my electronic feed was gone and there was nothing else but the cold world all around.