Day 3 - August 9, 2013 - Skjoldunden Sund, Greenland
By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer, Master Mariner
Co-ordinates: 63º 32' N, 041º 45' W
Weather: Overcast and rain early, then clearing to warm, bright sunshine
Air Temperature: 5ºC
Pressure: 1012 hPa
Wind: 15 knots
The day started early with the tall, jagged peaks of Southeast Greenland appearing out of the mist in the distance. It took only a little bit of time for the visibility to improve through intermittent rain showers and high but decreasing winds. Soon we could see an immense scattering of icebergs both large and small; some brilliantly white while others were stunningly blue.
‘Captain Maggie’ skillfully piloted the ship around the icebergs but close enough such that everyone could obtain photographs of these huge structures. It was like having our own private showing of a modern ice sculpture.
Soon we were entering the narrower confines of Sonder Skjoldungesund or the Southern arm of Skjoldungen Sund. This stupendous fjord is truly gigantic and most guests were on deck simply taking in the beauty. Mountains in excess of 1,000 meters in height skimmed close by the side of the ship, yet we usually had more than 200 – 300 meters of water under the keel of the ship.
The mountains all had a light dusting of new snow but only on their peaks along with snow patches and waterfalls tumbling down into the salty ‘fjord’. This ‘sund’, or waterway, is not quite linear but rather more like a slalom course that the ship must traverse. After one additional turn we could see Thryms Glacier up in the distance, our destination for the morning.
Next, the zodiacs were being launched near to the glacial front and the Expedition Team was ready to begin our zodiac cruise in this completely remote, uninhabited and rarely visited part of Greenland. Of course we chatted about a wide variety of what I sometimes describe as ‘Forensic Glaciology’. This means that you can learn quite a bit about the mechanism, transport and history of the glacial ice simply by observing the details of the formation.
In addition, we answered questions and discussed more scientific aspects such as the ability to date the glacier through the sampling of ice cores and analyzing both the volcanic ash and air bubbles trapped inside. Everyone also got a chance to take a deep breath of air that likely was trapped inside the glacier for the past several thousand years.
There were several great aspects of this zodiac cruise. One was to experience this beautiful area from the more immediate perspective of a small zodiac. In addition, we could observe rock formations that date more that 2.5 billion years, some of the oldest rocks that one can see on Earth.
However, I think one of my favorite aspects is to observe a glacier front which is being directly fed by the largest ice sheet in the Northern Hemisphere. This formation covers the vast majority of this largest Island in the world and has a maximum height of more than 2.5 km of ice above sea level. It is a very rare privilege to have the opportunity to observe such an important and large feature of the Earth.
All too soon it was time for the Silver Explorer to enter Norre Skjoldungesund, thus allowing us to continue through an entirely new section of water without having to retrace our steps. One could not ask for a better luncheon view from the restaurant as the sun cascaded down the steep sides of the mountain.
Guests filled the outer decks to take pictures of our narrowest pass during our day’s journey ‘inside of Greenland’ on board ship; a span of only 160 meters across and ‘only’ 40 meters of depth in this deep waterway. Now the glacial ice in the water as well as the glaciers glistened in the sunlight and I know that I - as well as many others - took literally hundreds of photographs.
Once again towards the end of the day we began to encounter the band of icebergs near the seaward exits of Skjoldungen Sund and had one more opportunity to marvel at their size and fantastic shapes.
We exited back out into the Greenland Sea after a fantastic day cruising through some of the most beautiful and least visited locations on Earth, a full treat for the eyes and senses.
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