Ice – frozen at sea and glacier born

See also this article - "Ice charts - how to read."

Sea ice in Greenland can, for the benefit of paddlers, be divided into four categories; local pack ice, drifting pack ice, locally calved ice bergs and by-passing icebergs.

Local pack ice
The low lying, flat and usually small pieces of ice are basically frozen sea from previous winter/s. It is very white and grainy due to the high level of oxygen, the amount of salt in the ice and it is warmer than fresh water icebergs. Being flat and thin, it moves faster with wind than current and tends to stay in packs when the wind picks up - hence a passage that was clear one day can be jammed with ice the next. It hower is not dangerous apart from delaying your progress.

By-passing ice bergs frozen into fjord ice (later local pack ice), late winter on the East Coast Greenland.

Local pack ice breaks up and melts fairly fast – this is the ice you should pay attention to when planning the start of your expedition (study ice charts).

You can, with caution, rest on the larger pieces for meal brakes or push the pieces aside by applying steady pressure with your arms or taking care not to break your paddle. If you climb onto pack ice, it is adviceable to keep your boat close at hand, such as by hauling it onto the ice as well and to keep your PFD zipped up at all times. Take care also how you lay your equipment about as indispensable items can get lost if the piece breaks apart. Be ready to swim!

Perhaps not the best layout if something happened, but...

Experiment in good weather and start with large and obviously stable and strong pieces. People with limited ice experience are often afraid of it when first encountered. My suggestion is get to know the difference between friendly, stable pack ice and unstable ice bergs that can shed tons of ice as you paddle past (from above or below).

If your progress is hindered by pack ice, you may want to wait for a change in the tide - or try paddling close to shore, or in the middle of a channel where it is sometimes open. Studying your map or chart beforehand can reveal potentially tricky sections such as shallow bays, river estuaries or places with names such as Qornoq (narrow water) or Ikateq (shallow water).

Sounds that get narrower on either end can be blocked at low tide or when wind is blowing down them. Likewise, they can open up with a shift in the tide or wind. It can therefore be a good move to finish a narrow passage or a tricky headland, to avoid getting jammed in with a change in the wind direction. When there are a few large icebergs in a bay you can try making your way towards them as their current born drift sometimes clears a path through the (wind dependent) pack ice. If, however, the ice bergs are stranded, such as where glacier rivers flow into a sound or fjord, they can block the winddriven pack ice. A study of the chart’s depth indicators can indicate such places - or the place name (eg. Ikateq, Qornoq).

Waters that have some pack ice, usually have calmer seas, even on windy days and here you are also more likely to encounter seals and polar bears.

Drifting pack ice
While your expedition start date depends on the density of local pack ice, you’ll also be affected by drifting ice floes. This ice is drifting south in large floes, which are driven to or away from the shore depending on the wind. This is harder to predict and you’ll just have to work around it. Here you can also find older pack ice, also flat and less dense than glacier ice, but its origins is the high Arctic, rather than local. It can be upto 8-10 years old and sometimes over 4 metres above sea level and in bigger chuncks. They too can block fast drifting pack ice and cause a jammed sound.

The pack ice usually breaks up enough to paddle by early to mid July and by mid August most of it will have melted completely near the villages, leaving only medium to small icebergs inside the fjords.

New (local) and old (from up north) pack ice

Locally calved ice bergs
This ice usually calves in smaller bergs than the northern giants, typically a car to bus size… However, this ice is freshly calved and made of fresh water. It is therefore therefore unsettled and dangerous. You’ll recognise it by its sharp edges, strong blue colour and often bergy bits and “shrapnel” all around.

Local hunters can tell if there is a change in the weather by monitoring the cracking noice of stranded ice bergs, such as in the ice bays around Isertoq.

Large ice bergs
The largest ice bergs are only found outside the fjords, in deeper water of the southbound current. Exemptions to this are a few deep fjords, such as Sermilik fjord south of Ammassalik, Scoresbysund and Kangerlussuaq, all on the East Coast.

Passing an ice berg arch south of Isertoq, East Coast Greenland.
It goes without saying that paddling thru the arch is plain stupid.

Tidal glaciers
Where a glacier flowes down to sea level it is commonly referred to as tidal glaciers. These glaciers float on the surface of the sea and thus are affected by storms and tide. As a rule of thumb, you should keep a distance of 3-4 times the height of the glacier's front.

Pay attention to where it is calving, you’ll see fresh blue ice where it last calved, or where there is broken ice below. I have never witnessed the amount of calving on the SE-coast as in the Antarctic, Svalbard or high on the west coast (or possibly north of Sermiligaq village), where accidents have been caused by calving glaciers. Obviously, you should take care with your choice of camps or how you leave your gear where there is risk of flooding by glacier calving.

Paddling past a small tide water glacier, Greenland's East Coast

Other considerations:
Early summer there is usually a lot of ice combined with calm, clear weather with intense sun reflection, from above, the sides and below eye level.

While the area around Ammassalik fjord, the main inhabited area, enjoyes 24 hours of daylight during mid summer, the sun does dip behind the mountains for a few hours by July. Frost at night can occur anytime when there is thick pack ice or near glaciers.

1 comment:

The Seven Settlements Kayak Expedition said...

I am enjoying your blog and I really appreciate this particular post as I paddle a lot between the bergs.



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