Monday, 16 November 2015
Kullorsuaq is among the most isolated and poorest communities in Greenland. Over 1000 km above the polar circle, lost in the far north ice desert, it's hard to belive that this community has been continuously growing (yes !) to the present day - to almost half hundred inhabitants.
Kullorsuaq (old Kuvdlorssuaq) is located in the Qaasuitsup region, in northwestern Greenland, on an island at the southern end of Melville Bay.
Coordinates: 74°34′ N, 57°13′ W
Population: ~ 450
The settlement was founded in 1928 and became a trading station, growing in size after World War II when hunters from several small villages around moved into larger settlements.
Today, Kullorsuaq remains one of the most traditional villages in Greenland.
Fishing and hunting – including the fur seal, narwhal and walrus – still are the primary occupations in the region. The fish processing plant for Upernavik Seafood (a subsidiary of Royal Greenland) and the Pilersuisoq general store are the only organized employers in the settlement.
The name of the settlement means "Big Thumb"; the Devil's Thumb is a pinnacle-shaped rock in the center of the island, not far from the settlement.
Life in Kullorsuaq runs according to the glace cycles and the polar night. Between December and Mars, people live in total darkness, except for the moon and stars if the skies are clear; temperature can fall down to -35ºC, the sea is frozen and no ship can reach the village. The sunny months are also the best for fishing, and warmer days up to 5ºC allow for the melting of the ice and the arrival of ships with provisions and a few tourists.
Midnight sun in Kullorsuaq
Friday, 6 November 2015
I should have read this book when I was a kid, at the age when I read about Byrd in Antarctica or Darwin in South America. But Christiane Ritter is adult - serious and authentic - in this report of her foolish adventurous stay in the freezing subpolar desert: it's finely written with precious and stunning descriptions, sometimes as if she is doing fascinated paintings, or poems. The book had great success when it was published and is a classic of Arctic literature.
The year is 1930, between the two wars, and then Europe was confused, depressed, unpleasant and dangerous. The crash and the long American depression put an end to the brief democratic years, and dictators went sprawling. Christiane Ritter, a 36-year-old Austrian housewife, was invited by her husband, a fur trapper in Northern Spitsbergen - the largest island of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago - to visit him for a whole year, so she can update long overdue readings and sleep to her content.
Gråhuken (Grey Hook), by the Woodfjord, is the location of the cabin where she lived.
The invitation was tempting, yet the desolation of the long Arctic night could frighten: Christiane was to live in a tiny and rough wood hut, on the shore of the Woodfjord, at about 80° northern latitude, under -40º C up to -15º C in the Summer. Only a long journey on the rugged ice may allow contact with other hunters huts - often deserted but still cozy.
Christiane will suffer moments of deep solitude, enclosed in the small cabin during long and windy storms, or wandering the Arctic night without horizons or references; on the other hand, she will live the experience of floating in an unreal world, with fantastic luminescence through blackness, starry skies never before seen, and when fairylike boreal aurora lights up, an intense feast for all senses.
"The world is in deep twilight, a perpetual twilight from which it can no longer emerge. There is no wind, and a transparent mist carries the waves of the last dying light. Everything, near and far, is unreal, without spatial dimension. The frozen mountains soar up into the dark grey sky like white shadows. Weightlessly, they seem to sway.
With a soft musical note, the dark water nestles in the round white bays and in the river estuaries, and glides in the calm obscurity over to the broad sea, which in the distance seems to melt into the grey of the sky.
The scene has nothing earthly in it. Withdrawn, it seems to lead its own contained life. It is like the dream of a world that is visible before it takes shape as a reality."
"It is as though we are on another planet, somewhere else in universal space, where in nameless peace bright mountains rest and the light speaks with a mute eloquence.
We go out into he bright land. In the valley the wind howls, over the plain the snow is driven like a glistening river, but calm and unmoved the mountains soar into the star-glittering heavens.
Bright veils detach themselves from the sky. As though stirred by the gentlest breath of wind they float in ever bright and broader waves across the whole heaven. We watch the shining rhythm of the spheres until the veils disappear, and come to ourselves, small beings struggling forward mute and heavy through the storm on the earth."
"It is full moon. No central European can have any idea of what this means on the smooth frozen surface of the earth. It as though we were dissolving in moonlight, as though the moonlight were eating us up. It makes no difference when we go back into the hut under the snow after a moonlight trip. The light seems to follow us everywhere. One's entire counsciousness is penetrated by the brightness; it is as though we were being drawn into the moon itself.
... what I would like best of all is to stand all day on the shore, where in the water the rocking ice floes catch and break the light and throw it back to the moon."
- A red desert -
"I can scarcely believe my eyes. A radiant red dawn illuminates a land that is itself red. Red is the sea, red the rocks, red the beach, and the square driftwood hut is tinged with red.
(...) meantime Karl, who does not allow himself to be bewildered either by colours or by geological images, has been in the pink hut, making some glaring red cocoa. "I had to make the cocoa so thick," he says apologetically, "so that you would not see how red and sandy the water was that I had to make it with".
Perhaps the psychological dimension is missing, and entering deeper into human feelings and relations - there were three sleeping in the cabin, the couple and a younger hunter, a friend of her husband. But Christiane Ritter devoted herself totally to the emptiness of the irresistible surrounding world, and as her husband, she preferred the contemplative silence - this is the testimony that she left in her book.
A Woman in the Polar night
Greystone Books, UApress Alaska
Saturday, 24 October 2015
The Ammassalik Fjord area in East Greenland is not only one of the most stunning Arctic sceneries but also the location of several fascinating settlements.
I have told here in U.T. about Tasiilaq, the main town, Kulusuk, Kuummiuut. And north of Kuummiuut, on its own fiord, Sermiligaaq comes next.
The village of Sermiligaaq may be the smallest in Ammassalik - but it is the door to spectacular inland glaciers.
Sermiligaaq, meaning "the beautiful glacier fiord", is situated on a peninsula facing the fiord of the same name, about 100 km north of Tasiilaq.
Population: ~ 220
Coordinates: 65°54′ N, 36°22′ W
- just north of the arctic circle
The little group of colourful wooden houses lies on the southern slope of a large rocky promontory.
Houses are scattered uphill and linked by wooden staircases and boardwalks - no roads here, of course.
Sermiligaaq has a small store, a school and a community center. Because of the area's incredible beauty, several tour operators offer kayak tours of the bay.
With just over 200 inhabitants, this is still an active hunting and fishing village. As the settlement does not have a production facility, fishing and catch is sent to the factory in the nearby Kuummiut.
The Fiord and the Glaciers
Sermiligaaq Fjord, two glaciers calve into its waters: the large Knud Rasmussen, and the smaller Karale glacier (top right).
The Knud Rasmussen glacier
About 3 km long, with a 1000 m wide and 40 m high water front.
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
This time Utima Thule will be travelling on a parallel to the equator, 80º to the North. From East to West, from Arctic Canada to Arctic Siberia.
Axel Heiberg Island and Ellesmere Island, in Arctic Canada; northernmost Greenland, east and west; the Norwegian Svalbard Islands; Franz Josef and Severnaya Zemlya archipelagos, on the Siberian Arctic waters.
Let's start in Axel Heiberg, one of the northernmost islands of the Arctic Archipelago of Canada. The arctic desert terrain was chosen as a good approach to Mars surface and adequate for tests and training in similar conditions. So, NASA installed a base there - the MARS station ("McGill Arctic Research Station"), near the 80º N latitude.
Next, in Ellesmere Island, the largest and northernmost island of the same Canadian Archipelago.
At 80º N, the most remarkable place is probably the station Eureka, a permanent base for military and weather studies founded in 1947.
Let's move eastwards, through Nares Strait. Next stop at Greenland, to meet the Humboldt Glacier (or Sermersuaq, in inuit), the widest tidewater glacier in the Northern Hemisphere:
Its front is 110 km wide, bordering the Kane Basin in North West Greenland.
Station Nord, 81º N
Just 1 degree north of 80º, the danish Station Nord is one of the coldest research stations on earth, on the remote northeast Greenlandic coast:
Now we cross the North Atlantic to the European (Norwegian) Svalbard Archipelago. The 80th parallel hardly touches the northern tip of the islands.
The nearest settlement is Ny Ålesund, to the south at 79º N, a station several times highlighted here at U.T.:
But also in Svalbard there is another reddish ground where NASA is testing for the Mars expedition: the Bockfjorden and the surrounding red sandstone mountains.
Bockfjorden, at 80ºN, is an intriguing place where hot meets cold. The ice sheet is gone, dry and cold environment coexist, hot springs still simmer, exhaling gases from Earth's mantle. Shaped by volcanism, ice, and liquid water, the place reminds of how Mars might have once been.
AMASE expedition testing a robot.
These very very remote islands are mostly north of the 80th parallel, far from the Siberian Arctic coast. Bell island is on the spot, exactly at 80º.
Nagurskoye, Alexandra Land island.
Cape Tegettoff, Hall Island, 80º N
Severnaya Zemlya is still more isolated, south of nowhere. Perfect for some misanthrope to build a hut far from any civilization, up in the Russian high Arctic. Surely there is a station, a meteorological station, at Golomyanniy, 79º 33' N, on Sredniy Island, where Russia is building a larger military base.
The station at Golomyanniy works since 1954.
Surprisingly, animals - some of them quite large ! - live at this latitude:
Why not end as I began, with an 80º N arctic flower?