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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thrilling Calving at Greenland's Eqip Sermia Glacier

One of the highlights of our trip to Greenland's west coast was two nights at Eqi Ice Camp, a small group of huts with giant windows looking directly onto the face of jagged face of Eqi glacier.  It takes over five hours to travel from Ilulissat to Eqi by boat, which is the only practical choice, since there are no roads whatsoever.

[This is the fifth of a series - earlier galleries: flying over an ice fjordmidnight sun iceberg kayakingGreenlandic puppies and villages, and iceberg whale watching.]

Here's a preview of the photographs herein.  Notice the ice in mid-air!



As soon as we came within a few miles of the glacier, we started hearing thunder, which was actually the sound of chunks large and small crashing down the glacier face into the water.  The captain steered us through slushy water, and picked his way between floating chunks of ice the size of buses and cars.  Ice scraping along the boat's metallic hull went "scriiiiiiitch." Every once in a while, we'd hear a loud "GONG", when colliding with one of the larger hunks.   It did make me wonder about the likelihood of Titanic-style sinking.  I hoped the captain had enough experience to avoid getting us in trouble.

Here's how it looked when we arrived.  The boat is on the left.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

The captain cut the engine when we were about a mile from the glacier face.  They don't go closer because a huge calving could generate a tsunami and capsize us.  The face of the glacier towered 1000 feet above us.  The boat looks kind of small here, but it's big enough for about forty people and their luggage.  Of course, we were on the boat at the time - this picture (of our boat) was taken the next day, when new guests were arriving.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

It didn't take long to see our first huge calving.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

It's difficult to convey the scale of these events.  This is a closer up view of the same falling ice.  Notice there is a huge flock of seagulls circling in front of the white water of the splash.  These gulls are only halfway between us and the splash.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

As I was trying to get photos, I realized there's a problem - the glacier doesn't give any warning; it just goes.  By the time you notice something is falling, it's already hitting the water.  The glacier face is about two miles wide, so it could be in any direction.  You have to try to anticipate the next calving by sounds and small pieces falling, hoping a big one will follow.

The following series of photographs shows the biggest calving we saw in the three days we had at the glacier.  First, one huge piece started to fall.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

Once that came down, another section beside it started to crumble.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

And then the other side started to crumble.  Then the captain started yelling at the crew in Greenlandic, and we realized this might not be entirely fun and games.  As the wave plowed toward us, they quickly started up the engine and pointed the bow directly at the oncoming wave, so we wouldn't get broadsided.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

An entire section of the glacier face was caving in all at once.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

Considering the height of the glacier face, this splash must be well over 100 feet, as high as a ten-story building.  As we continued to take photos, our guide was yelling at everyone to hold tightly to something with both hands, and repeating herself when we were slow to react.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

A closer view of the impact.  The lower layers of the ice are dark grey from grinding against stone.  This dark gray gravel and dust tints the water as the glacier face collapses downward and churns up the bottom of the bay.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

An closer view shows the vivid color of the freshly exposed ice, giant chunks in mid-air, and the explosive force of the 

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

Thousands of seagulls' peaceful afternoon was rudely interrupted.  You can see them circling in front of the approaching tsunami.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

Of course, as a photographer, I wanted us to get much closer.  Even if your boat didn't capsize from the tsunami, imagine what would happen to it if a chunk of ice the size of a city bus came down on you - see light blue chunk mid-air front and center in this photograph.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

Jennifer had the skill and presence of mind to catch the whole thing on video.  If you have problems with the video below, you can also watch on vimeo!


Thank goodness the captain understood the danger, and kept us at a safe distance, so the wave only set the boat pitching back and forth, but wasn't a real threat.  After all that excitement, we went on into camp.  This was the view from the bed in our rustic cabin.  After hiking and dinner, we sat out on our porch each evening and enjoyed the view.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

The cabins didn't have bathrooms, so I had to go out to pee in the middle of "night" - except we're above the arctic circle, during the midnight sun.  So, this is the view of the bay at 2:00 AM.  In camp, the sun was blocked by the hills, but notice the direct sunlight hitting an iceberg from a low angle out in the bay.

Glacier calving iceberg ice Eqi Eqip Sermia climate change global warming melting gigantic huge tsunami travel adventure spectacular tourist tourism vacation Denmark Danish Greenlandic nature wilderness pristine unspoiled wild untouched natural

The next day, we went for a hike to get a closer view of the glacier.  On the way, a couple of large white birds flew up out of the brush, but we didn't get a good look at them.  Since I expected them to remain close to their territory, I watched for them around the same spot on the way back.  Just as I'd hoped, they turned up right on schedule.  They were too far away to get truly sharp photos with the equipment I had, but these give some idea of what they looked like.  They're Gyrfalcons.


This one stopped to take a look at us.  This is extremely cropped - in the original photo, he's only a white speck.


When we got closer to camp, we heard yipping, and saw a tiny Arctic fox scampering behind some rocks.  Then we saw him run into a hole under a boulder.  A few seconds later, he and his sibling came back out to look at us.  Just for fun, I imitated their barking, which really freaked them out. They stared at us, then one spun around in a circle, and looked again.  Then they both darted back into their den.  Later that evening, I saw one skulking around the edge of camp.


If you're like me, you're thinking "Why is he brown?  Aren't Arctic foxes supposed to be white?" The explanation is that Arctic foxes are white in winter, but this was mid-summer. He was curious about the camp.


So I started stalking him. He would come close, then run away again when people noticed him.  Here he is getting spooked.


He had a peculiar habit of "skipping" when he walked.  He would take a few normal steps, then pop his front end in the air for two steps with hind legs only.


He went off to watch from a safe distance.




Hope you enjoyed the show!  I'd be thrilled if you share with friends and family, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or however you prefer. Thanks for visiting!  Here's one last iceberg for the road (seen on the boat ride back to Ilulissat).


[This is the fifth of a series - earlier galleries: flying over an ice fjordmidnight sun iceberg kayakingGreenlandic puppies and villages, and iceberg whale watching.]


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