Greenland's Stunning Icebergs

Icebergs are amazing in every sense of the word.  Massive, beautiful and powerful floating blocks of ice, some as large as buildings, others in the shape of giant columns, wedges, or other formations.  Seen up close they invoke awe and a strong appreciation for the forces of nature.  And as large as they are, only 10% of their mass is visible, the rest remaining below the surface.  These icebergs calved from the Greenland ice cap.  They will initially travel north, pushed by ocean currents, and then start their journey south where they'll melt along the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.


The scale is hard to describe.  The smaller iceberg on the left is higher than many buildings; the larger one the size of several city blocks.


Icebergs assume different shapes and names are given to the various formations.  This one is a "Pinnacle"; the first image is a "Dome".  They weigh between 100,000 and 200,000 metric tons.


Icebergs remain in the water for months and often years, their shape changed by water, weather and time.  This one now has deep caverns along one side.  On the narrower side at the left daylight can be seen filtering through the cavity.  Icebergs with slots or channels through are described as "Dry-Dock".


Deep cracks appearing at the edge of an iceberg, indicating part of it may be getting ready to split off from the main section.


The tiny zodiac with it's driver and ten passengers on the left edge of the image provides scale and shows just how large these ice formations are.  To be on the water, circling closely around them, was an incredible experience.  


Black-legged kittiwakes sitting on a small floating piece of ice, with larger icebergs in the background.  A few moments later they flew off showing their lovely wings in flight.


A "Tabular" formation.  Flat on top, longer than it is high, with sheer sides.  It's the length of a city block or more.


Columnar icebergs, probably once part of larger formations, broken off and made smaller by the elements.  

These images were taken off the west coast of Greenland near the town of Ilulissat which is  the iceberg capital of the Arctic.  Across town lies the Jacobshavn Glacier and Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The glacier produces 10% of all Greenland icebergs, with 35 billion tonnes of icebergs calving and passing out of the fjord every year.  


Ice sheets, calved from the glacier, moving through the fjord.


While hard to compete with the icebergs the rocks and tundra at the edge of the fjord offer up their own beauty.


Jacobshavn is a fast-moving glacier, calving vast amounts of ice into the fjord each year.  Larger icebergs can get stuck in the fjord where they remain until they are broken up by the force of the glacier and the continually moving ice.  Looking out across the fjord the vista is a mountain range of ice, moving steadily on its path to open water. 


The towns along this Greenland coast are colourful against a backdrop of rugged mountains.  And they have these ice structures as part of their landscape.  


Some smaller icebergs and floes in and around the fjords and mountains.  The beauty of it all can be overwhelming.


I've been drawn to icebergs for a long time.  Their beauty, mystery and raw power is unique.   As is the soft light and the northern colour palette which I find wonderful to photograph.  I first went to the Arctic two years ago and immediately knew I would return.  These past two weeks along the coast of Greenland, across Baffin Bay and into some of the northern parts of Nunavut was memorable.  This world is beautiful.

The Northwest Passage

Six months ago I travelled through the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada on a journey that took 16 days and covered more than 5,000 kilometres of Arctic waterways.  My reason for going was to see a remote part of my own country and to fulfill a long-held desire to see icebergs.  

We started from Kugluktuk, formerly known as Coppermine, travelling east and north through the islands, straits and bays in the Canadian territory of Nunavut and then across Smith Sound and Baffin Bay to Greenland.   

Each day we left the ship on zodiacs to explore the land and visit historic sites and communities. On board, talks and presentations were given by experts in their fields designed to give us a sense of the history and current reality we would encounter on the land.  There was so much to see and hear it was hard to take it all in.

Two Inuit boys in Gjoa Haven

Two Inuit boys in Gjoa Haven

Town of Gjoa Haven, population 1,200

Town of Gjoa Haven, population 1,200

The first community we visited was the hamlet of Gjoa Haven, the only settlement on King William Island.  There was a guided tour through the town and then a cultural presentation in the community centre.  

Sailing through Bellot Strait, a narrow passage only 2 km wide and 25 km long, with sharp rises on either side, that is locked in ice for much of the year was remarkable.  The strait separates Somerset Island on the north from the Boothia Peninsula in the south.  The opening to the strait could be seen for quite some time.  Standing at the front of the ship watching us draw closer was a slow and peaceful experience.

Approaching Bellot Strait

Approaching Bellot Strait

Fort Ross

An outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company, no longer in use, and left as it was.   Looking at the buildings, so small on the land, it was hard to imagine people living there year round.  

Small cabin at Fort Ross

Small cabin at Fort Ross

Arctic Willow, slow growing and very old

Arctic Willow, slow growing and very old

Willow and lichen growing on the rocks

Willow and lichen growing on the rocks

Beechey Island

Large, desolate, haunting, with graves and the remains of a settlement.

Walking along the edge of the island approaching the Franklin settlement at the far corner.

Devon Island, Croker Bay and Glaciers

Grise Fiord

Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island is Canada's most northern civilian settlement.  It has a population of 130 people.  The community welcomed us warmly, sharing stories about their lives and their culture. It was a privilege to be there.

And the Icebergs…..

They were everything I'd imagined them to be.  Majestic, mysterious and beautiful.

Early morning among the icebergs

Early morning among the icebergs

Sunrise on a stormy morning

Sunrise on a stormy morning

This Arctic journey was everything I'd hoped it would be.  I learned so much - about the far north, the land, its people, and the challenges that come with living in such an isolated and harsh climate.  It is also strikingly beautiful and easy to understand why the people who live there are so attached to it.  The icebergs were just one part of that beauty.  I gained much from the trip and plan on returning to the Arctic next year.