Off Greenland we meet up with sea ice. We are actually not far enough north to be confronted with pack ice – frozen sea water which due to currents and wave motion has formed an ice flow. Twenty-five years ago, the whole east coast of Greenland was covered in pack ice. Due to global warming, this has been pushed further north.
There are however more icebergs now than there were in the past. They are formed when glaciers flow into the sea. The glacial tongues rise to the surface and finally break off. One refers to this as a glacier calving. Due to changes in climate, the glaciers are flowing faster than they did a few decades ago, which causes more icebergs to form: proof that the second -largest ice shield on this planet is melting. In Ilulissat for example, the glacier flows into the sea an unbelievable fifty meters a day. And because small pieces – so-called “Bergy Bits” or “Growlers”- break off the icebergs, we not only have some spectacular sightings, but navigating through ice fields which are sometimes quite thick can become stressful. Even small icebergs often pull a train of broken-off pieces behind them. Especially near glaciers, but not only there, ice fields often force us to reduce speed so that we can react immediately. A Growler only a meter in length can weigh over a ton and even if we are well equipped for a passage through the ice - the ribs in the hull are close together, there is a six-centimetre oak panelling, and a six-millimetre thick aluminium layer – we do not want to take any risk.
When ice is near, there is always a crewmember in the hull. Here there is a good view of the sea and exact steering orders can be given to the helmsman. We are often forced to take a slalom course and at the same time we must still be sure of where we are heading. In addition, larger icebergs must be kept at a greater distance. Pieces often break off or melt unregularly and when the static changes, a whole iceberg can without warning take a 180° turnover. Seven eighths of an iceberg can be under the surface and when this happens, an enormous flood wave can form. It is best to keep a distance.
It is exciting when fog emerges. The larger icebergs normally appear on radar, but the smaller growlers often suddenly appear from nowhere and this requires a high concentration on the part of the lookout and the helmsman. Even if our lives would not be in danger, just a short inattentiveness could cause serious structural damage to the hull of the Dagmar Aaen.
When we meet up with the first ice fields off the east coast of Greenland, the fact that it does not get totally dark at this time of the year is very helpful. The dimmest time of the day is during sunset – a couple of hours when the sun wanders from the northwest to the northeast directly beyond the horizon. Visibility is still good enough for the lookout. Unfortunately the situation in the higher latitudes changes quickly. At the moment every day is eight minutes shorter than the last. Even at the beginning of August we experienced the first total darkness at night and rain set in the next night, which strongly restricted visibility.
Still, no one is complaining on board. Each iceberg is absolutely special in its form and we are happy about each one we get to view. It makes no difference if it is eight miles away or pops up just three boat lengths away.