We held our open boat near the capital of Greenland today. I say "near" since we were at anchor. There was a cruise ship in town, which needed the dock space, so we ferried people out on one of our boats instead. I was boat crew for a few hours, while Phil (outboard mechanic) drove. At times there was a bit of swell, making it a small adventure for people getting on and off the ship. Most of the kids seemed to enjoy the experience, and many Greenlanders are used to being out in boats so took it in stride. Overall, it was a great open boat day, with a constant stream of people waiting at the dock for pick up.
Nuuk is a proper modern city. It's got a Thai restaurant (and an Mexican one), a civic center, a museum, government and office buildings, public transportation and even housing projects. In fact, one percent of the entire Greenland population lives on one block here ("blok P"). Nuuk is also home to Santa's mailbox - a big red thing full of hopeful letters, visible from the ship.
Saturday, the crew got ashore for some bowling and walking around the town. Tomorrow we'll finish provisioning and meet with government officials, then head out to continue the science work.
Just after leaving Narsaq, Jason (scientist) went by helicopter about 25 miles west of the town to Sermilik Isbrae glacier, and brought back this photo. You can see the vegetation line 800 feet (245m) above sea level where the glacier was a century and a half ago. (Look for the dark green stuff in the upper right corner of the image.) Lichen and other vegetation are moving into the newly exposed territory, but much more slowly than the ice is receding.
Measurements of the glacier's height show that it thinned 395 feet (120m) between 1985 and 20001 - the largest documented thinning of any Greenland glacier. It used to also have a floating tongue extending down the fjord, but has now retreated back into shallow water where its front rests on the fjord bottom, right at the edge of the ice cap.
With our help, Jason set up an automatic camera that will take a picture of the glacier's front every four hours (during daylight). He will use these images to track how fast the ice is flowing down the glacier from the ice cap, into the sea.
The changes to this glacier were already documented before our visit, but are yet another sign that the Greenland ice sheet is in danger. If you want to help put the breaks on global warming, and you live in the U.S. (the world's worst global warming polluter), sign up to the Thin Ice Contest for ways you can take action.
During our visit to Narsaq, we heard some unexpected (to us) good news here on the front lines of global warming impacts. A small-scale hydro project is under construction just east of here that should free both Narsaq and nearby Qaqortoq from dirty, and expensive, diesel electricity generation.
For many communities in the northern and remote areas, most if not all, of their electricity is produced by burning a variety of diesel known as bunker fuel. This type of electricity generation is one of the most polluting ways to generate electricity (although less polluting than the coal used in a number of different countries like the U.S. that relies on coal for 60 percent of it's electricity production), both from local air pollution as well as from a global warming perspective.
From that perspective, Narsaq is no different than say a small community in the Canadian or U.S. Arctic. The diesel engines used here are 40-year-old ship engines. There are three of them - two are required to produce enough energy for the town, the third one for back-up and maintenance purposes. One would think that in a place like Greenland, people wouldn't suffer from air pollution related disease such as asthma, yet they do.
Generally speaking, diesel fuel has a high content of particulates and other pollutants, which are prone to cause respiratory diseases. In the case of bunker fuel it is even worse. These black diesel particulate emissions also coat snow and ice, making it less reflective and more prone to melting. Furthermore, like all use of fossil fuels, burning diesel creates the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. So for many reasons the news of the Qorlortorsuaq small dam project, which should help these communities diminish their dependence on diesel power, is quite welcome.
The project consists of a small dam under construction just east of here that will produce 7.2 MW of power, enough for 5,000 people. Transmission lines will also have to be set up to then bring the power to Narsaq and Qaqortoq - hopefully allowing them to shut down their dirty diesel generators for good. This project has the other advantage of being able to produce energy at a much lower cost than diesel generation.
Greenpeace's position regarding hydropower is one of a case by case analysis. As a general rule, we don't like large dams because of the massive flooding they create, local populations they tend to displace as well as the fact they do emit, although less then fossil fuels electricity generation, greenhouse gases (through the decay of flooded vegetation for example).
In the case of small dams, the question that often arises is what is "small" - i.e. the amount of power generation (in MW), the area flooded or some other factor. In the case of the Qorlortorsuaq dam, 7.2 MW would be considered small by all definitions I have seen! Of course, the community needs here are also quite small.
Across the Arctic, there other similar interesting projects being developed such as the "Renewable energy for northern communities" program by the Canadian Government which aims to install hybrid wind and solar systems with conventional diesel generators to reduce communities dependence on fossil fuel. It's encouraging to see that the renewable energy message is reaching even the more remote parts of our world.
If only countries like the U.S., Canada and others could do the same.
[Photo credit: Edvard Bach]
It's an oddity of living on board a ship that wherever you go, you bring your home with you. And if it's a Greenpeace ship, pretty much whenever you visit a town, the townspeople also get a chance to visit you. So it feels more like exchanging visits than just going visiting.
Today we exchanged visits with Narsaq. Our guidebook says the town's name means "the plain", although its landscape is a little bumpier than I associate with the word "plain". I would say "mountainous", "fjordish" or at least "hilly " would be more like it - but then maybe this is as flat as costal Greenland gets. At any rate, the town has a good harbor, about 1,800 people, houses in the usual colors (red, blue, green and yellow - very pretty), and icebergs just off shore.
The main industry here is the fish plant, and fishing is also a big form of recreation. They do get a few tourists, and you might be surprised to learn that some of them come for the fishing, which I'm told is excellent. They also have a mighty big hill (it would be called a mountain in some places). I'm told that part way up the hill you can find rare stones called Tuttupit, which range in color from pink to purple and are only found one other place in the world. Walking the surrounding hills is another favorite past time for both locals and tourists. Considering the spectacular landscape, I'd guess the views are worth the more than any precious stones you might find.
The local kids are keen on roller blading. During today's open boat, one of them was even cruising around the deck. Others were playing Attortaanneq - known in English as "tag" - chasing and hiding from each other. Here's a tip: favorite hiding place is behind the bridge chart table.
The adults here echoed the same disturbing news about a changing climate that we had heard in Ittoqqortoomiit - less sea ice, warmer water, a local glacier has visibly thinned, and Otto (our local guide and interpreter) told us that the weather has become more unpredictable, which is a very big deal if you are a hunter or fisherman.
Another local told us about a glacier fed, hydro power plant being built nearby to replace diesel generators. This is probably being done as much for cost reasons as environmental reasons. Either way, hydropower, when done right, is a highly reliable and environmentally benign source of renewable energy.
In a town this size it is easy to know where your energy comes from. In a big city, it can be less obvious. Where does your electricity come from? How much of it is generated from renewable sources? Try asking your power company these questions. No mater where you live, just letting your power company know a customer cares is important. In some areas, you can even choose to buy your electricity exclusively from renewable sources. In the US, also be sure to take part in the Thin Ice Contest.
Greetings from Narsaq on the west coast of Greenland. Yesterday at 3:30 a.m. the ship entered Prince Christian Sound, the eastern entrance to a maze of fjords that zig zag through the southern tip of Greenland and join the east and west coasts.
The other option for getting to the west coast was via open water around the tip of Cape Farewell. Much like Cape Horn and Tierra del Fuego, Cape Farewell is the confluence of three or four currents and some other nautical nastiness that I know nothing about, the bottom line being the conditions are really bad on a good day and utterly horrendous on a bad day.
Needless to say I'm glad Arne (captain) opted for the inside passage route which proved to be quite an excellent adventure, especially given it was Sunday and most of us had the luxury to gawk at the surroundings.
At any rate, we entered the sound when it was still dark. Now that we are below the Arctic Circle and are getting on into August it gets dark for a few hours every night (you would think this is a welcome occurrence but to me it just signals that the short Arctic summer is coming to a close).
The wind topped 30 knots as Peter and Texas maneuvered the ship into the entrance of the Sound. The ship heeled a few degrees to port because of the wind and that's no small feat since the ship weighs SOMETHING LIKE 900 tons. It was a full-on squall with sideways rain which can be lovely if you're tucked inside a strong, capable ship, warming your hands over a heater as you look out the window at the snotty weather.
I couldn't help thinking about the explorers who first entered the fjord 1100 years ago. They had no charts, no idea of where the route would take them, no radar or depth finder to show where the icebergs or rocks were located. Crazy stuff, especially in the harsh weather we were encountering. It's certainly inhospitable here and I tend to forget that when I look out at the world from the comfort and safety of this ship.
As the sun rose it became easier to see the dramatic cliffs on either side of the fjord. Huge waterfalls spilled from the cliffs, often the wind was so strong that it blew the raging streams back up, turning them from "waterfalls" into "waterups." Likewise, from a distance we saw a big tabular iceberg in the channel with what looked like four water spouts jetting out of its top. We couldn't figure out what was going on, but as we came alongside the berg we figured it out: channels of rain and melt water running down the sides of the berg were being blown back up by the wind, which at this point was gusting to 50 knots. Nick snapped plenty of pictures so hopefully you'll get a peak at what I'm trying to describe.
The entire fjord system was spectacular, lined by jagged peaks draped with glaciers and waterfalls. The water in the fjord was a gorgeous turquoise blue-green, and later in the morning the rain stopped, making it a lot easier to spend longer chunks of time outside. At one point we circumnavigated an island in the fjord system, which added another beautiful hour or so to the transit.
Later in the morning I huddled with some other folks on a small deck below the bridge where the life rafts and survival suits are stored. It's a great place to hang out because you're outside yet shielded from the wind (unless it's coming from the bow) and have a perfect vantage point for taking in the scenery. I feel like such a halfwit because it's taken me years to figure out that this "sweet spot" exists on the ship. Duh.
After six hours we got to the end of the fjord system and were on the west coast of Greenland. Lots of big bergs in striking shapes were floating around, the sky turned dark and the wind starting whipping up again, painting a very surreal picture. The sun poked through the dark sky here and there, casting a shiny veneer on the icebergs, some blue and some white, making them look even more stark against the black sky.
We reached Narsaq last night at 9:30 and I was already in bed when the anchor dropped. The early bedtime had nothing to do with waking up at 3:30 a.m. and everything to do with a major food coma brought on after dinner. Hughie had the bright idea of melting Mars bars (like a Milky Way bar in the U.S.) and pouring the resulting warm goo over ice cream. I'm not usually a big ice cream person, in fact, in the world of nutritionally devoid foods, I prefer salty bad things to sweet bad things any day of the week. But something happened last night and I gobbled down three bowls, which was lovely, but the after effects were anything but. Hughie also had three bowls full, but I guess that's more routine for him coming from Scotland where they deep-fry their Mars bars before eating them. Even so, as he waddled off to his cabin to sleep it off, he muttered, "I feel like a python that's swallowed a donkey."