Sunday, 23 July 2017

Kuummiut on the east coast of Greenland, where three fjords meet.

On the Greenlandic east coast's region of Ammassalik, the most amazing fjord sceneries surround a few small towns - Tasiilaq, Kulusuk and Tiniteqilaaq were already focused here at U.T. . The village of Kuummiut has a location so wonderful it's hard to dream of.

This is one of Greenland's jewels, still a rather well kept secret for its remoteness and difficult access. No roads lead to the village - you can only get there by boat (4 hours) or helicopter. 

Kuummiut is perched over the eastern shore of Ammassalik fjord. 

Kuummiut is the largest village in the fjord, close to the Karalé glacier, 40 km inland from the main town by the coast (Tasiilaq).

A colourful inuit village amidst mountains, fjords and glaciers.


Coordinates:  65°52' N, 37°00′ W
                     right on the Arctic Circle
Population:   ~ 380

Kuummiut in the morning light.

The church, built in 1957.

The village was established in 1915 as a mission. The name means "river people". By Greenlandic standards it's not that small - in fact it's even one of the largest villages, and in the Ammassalik region it's second only to Tasiilaq.

Pilersuisoq, the food and hardware store.

The Pilersuisoq is a general store that exists in nearly every Greenlandic settlement - grocery store, hunting supply store, post office and cash machine.

Everybody has a boat in Kuummiut. 
(the Pilersuisoq store at left)

The School

First day at school. The whole village comes to celebrate - it's a yearly family happening.

Children playing on the trampolin.

Local economy is based on hunting and fishing, and a fish processing is located down by the harbour.

The Inuit population keep their traditional fishing activity; this fisherman is counting on his dogs to help.

The villagers get around by dog sleds with Huskies in the winter, and by foot during the other seasons

The settlement is home to the only fish factory in East Greenland, due in part to the fact that the harbour is often free of ice during the winter, which is unusual for the eastern coastal towns.

The low blue building is the fish fabric, "Arctic Prime Fishery".

Built in 1964, the plant used to produce dried and salted fish, but it was recently converted for frozen fish, mostly exported to Iceland, Faroë and Denmark. Cod, halibut and capelin (ammassat) are the most common species.

Arctic Prime Fisheries expects that at least is landed 150-200 tons

The Johanna Kristina supply ship

The vessel run by the Royal Arctic Line that delivers cargo and passenger service for the settlements in the Ammassalik region.

The 'Johanna Kristina' visiting Kuummiut.

The ship takes 3 hours to/from Tasiilaq, and visits one settlement per day on a rotating basis.

Kuummiut under snow

The main attraction of Kuummiut for tourist visitors is the abundant snowfall, so much that the mountainous area around the fjord is usually covered by a deep snow blanket granting great skiing.

But also the town gets prettier: red, blue, green, orange, yellow painted wooden houses are an explosion of colour against the white snow background. This house model is a danish heritage from the 50s.

The Pilersuisoq store almost submersed, as the other houses, in a frozen white ocean of snow.

Inuit kid in the snow.

Mountain hikers are coming in increasing numbers to Kuummiut. The mountains here are quite steep, some reaching 2000 meters, and snowfall is abundant.

Moonrise over Ammassalik mountains.

Piteraq, the katabatic wind storm.

'Kuummiut is usually once a year under Piteraq storm. Intensely cold air drains off the Greenland ice cap, descending the slopes, channelled through the valleys. Wind can blow at 40-80 metres per second. The Piteraq is characterised by deep blue skies, intense sunlight, clear dry air and much blowing snow which can obscure visibility.' 

Up the fjords

Kuummiut lies deep within Ammassalik Fjord, in the vicinity of several other fjords and glaciers. Kayaking up those fjords is an amazing adventure.

A blue hut can be reserved for shelter in one of the most strikingly beautiful locations.

The Blue Hut  commands an impressive view of the surrounding glaciers and fjords.

Auroras are frequently observed at Kuummiut:

For more information and glorious photos, see this blog of the Danish teacher Carl Skou who worked there for a long period, teaching at the local school.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Dry Valleys and Lake Vanda - wonderful Antarctica

'There is a place on earth that is so unlike anywhere else on earth that it has been used to test equipment intended for use on Mars.'

The Dry Valleys region of Antarctica is one of the world's most extreme deserts, but that's only the start.

A dry valley in the Transantarctic Range.

Dry Valleys, Southern Antarctica.
Coordinates: 77° 28′ S, 162° 31′ E

The Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of the Ross Sea.

The Dry Valleys in southern Victoria Land, 100 km west of McMurdo station, form the largest ice-free area in Antarctica (4800 km2). They are the most extreme cold desert anywhere on earth, where the mean annual temperature is between -14º C and -30º C, most frequently under -20º C, and reaching a record low -68º C.

The Dry Valleys are protected from the ice masses of the Polar Plateau by the Transantarctic Mountains. They force air flowing upwards so they lose their moisture; the valleys then are in a precipitation shadow (where snow and rain don't fall).

Bull Pass, a low passage north of Wright Valley that shows clearly the contrast between "normal" iced Antarctica and the Dry Valleys.

The mountains also prevent the flow of ice down the valleys from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and finally, strong katabatic winds of up to 320 km/h blow down from the interior along with the low humidity causing the ice from the glaciers that do discharge into the valleys to evaporate.

Wright Valley, the largest of the main three valleys; at far, lake Vanda.

There are three large valleys, Taylor Valley, Wright Valley and Victoria Valley (the great Queen is everywhere!). Taylor Valley was first discovered during Scott's Discovery Expedition (named after the ship) in 1901-1904. It wasn't until the 1950's that further valleys and their extent were discovered from aerial photography.

Taylor Valley. The montain top glaciers drop down to the valley but they can't feed the bottom with ice or melt water - winds evaporate the tiniest humidity.

It's been 2000 million years at least without rain falling.

Glacier sliding down to Taylor Valley.

Unexpectedly, in all this dryness there are rivers flowing, yes! No lush vegetation though, and no fish, but beauty is there somehow. At least, humans are hundreds of miles away, that's already a bit of paradise... Mostly everywhere Man just ruins Nature.

Maybe the most impressive is Wright Valley, through which flows the river Onyx to feed Lake Vanda. These names even sound like Scy Fy !

River Onyx and Lake Vanda, in Wright Valley.

During austral summer, the lake partially melts. River Onyx (left) flows into Lake Vanda.

Lake Vanda is the largest of several lakes, at 5.6 km x 1.5 km at extremes, with a depth of 69 m, it has a smooth ice cover of around 4 m thick, in the summer a moat develops as the shore ice melts. Water comes from summer melting of nearby glaciers, once a balance occurs between water entering the lake and ice sublimation from the surface, leading to a fairly stable situation.

The rocks here are granites and gneisses. Loose gravel covers the ground.

Lake Vanda is a hypersaline lake with a salinity more than ten times that of the Dead Sea. Lake Vanda is also meromictic, which means that the deeper waters of the lake don't mix with the shallower waters. There are three distinct layers of water ranging in temperature from 23 °C on the bottom to the middle layer of 7 °C and the upper layer ranges from 4–6 °C .

As there is little or no snowfall in the Dry Valleys the ice on the surface of the lakes is exposed and can be quite beautiful, very hard and clear blue, often with inclusions of small air bubbles, radiating and crossed crack lines.

The lake is always covered by a thick iced transparent layer, some 3 to 4 m deep, except in December when austral summer causes some melting in the lake borders.

Some wind blown sand dust remained captured under ice surface.

Cracks, melt lines and bubbles.

Onyx River is the longest in Antarctica - 32 km ; strictly speaking it isn't a river but a seasonal meltwater stream fed by glaciers.

The Onyx River is a meltwater stream which flows westward through the Wright Valley from Wright Glacier, during the few months of the Antarctic summer. Despite being only 32 kilometres in length it is the longest in Antarctica.

Onyx River, Antarctica Dry Valleys
Coordinates: 77° 26′ S, 162° 45′ E

Onyx stream is formed in Summer from melting Wright Glacier and flows inland along the Wright Valley for 28 kilometers until it reaches Lake Vanda. Strangely, it flows inland, away from the sea, its water never reaching the ocean.

The Onyx typically flows for 6-8 weeks in, in some years it may never actually reach Lake Vanda while in others it may flood causing significant erosion to the valley floor.

The stream flow is quite variable - some years it doesn't even flow at all; some other years, overflow causes large floods. As the river flows it supports some algal (cyanobacteria) growth particularly in the wider and shallower areas.

The New Zealander Vanda Station, at the mouth of the river, was removed in 1995 as lake levels rose, and replaced by a shelter - Lake Vanda Hut - that is temporarily staffed in summer by 2-8 researchers (meteorology, sismology, hidrology...).

The New Zealander hut by the lake, bottom centre.

What a wondrous place! I could sit here and rest to die when time comes...