Monday, 13 February 2023

Oodaaq, island 83-42 and the flowers of Kaffeklubben

The island of Oodaaq, found in 1978, was little more than a gravel bank in the arctic ice, and was for some years considered the northernmost territory on the planet. It was located off the north coast of Greenland, and eventually disappeared in 1980, never to be seen again - these stony shingle banks are not permanent, they end up swallowed by floating ice, and then submerge in the ocean. Several other similar to Oodaaq have been sighted.

The first team to set foot on Oodaaq left a 'cairn', a pile of pebbles, and a message. It didn't last long. 
More than twenty years later, island 83-42 was discovered, a slightly larger rocky accumulation, by the American Dennis Schmitt in 2003.

Dennis Schmitt

In the lack of a better name, '83-42' ended up being assigned based on the island's latitude: 83º 42' 7.2'' N ; some also know it as 'Eklipse 0'. It has been visited since then, and as part of the boulders are covered with ice, it was possible to take measurements: 35 meters long by 15 wide and 4 meters above the sea. This height is not enough to guarantee the stability of the 'island' with currents and tides, but for the time being it still holds up. Some lichens found on the rocks may even indicate a longer lifespan. 

If it is considered an 'island', 83-42 will have the planetary record for northern latitude..

In its own way, it is a beautiful island.

Anyway, it is currently considered that the 'terra firma' further north on the planet is still the neighbouring Island of Kaffeklubben, 'Coffee Club Island' (!). Comparatively large, Kaffeklubben is also found off the northeast coast of Greenland. It was discovered by the great historic explorer Robert Peary in 1900, at 83° 40' N, is almost 1 km long and reaches 30 m in height. It may have existed for a few thousand years.

On the top of Kaffeklubben, a more substantial island.

After its discovery, it was first visited by the Danish explorer Lauge Koch in 1921, who gave it the jest name "coffee club" in honour of the cafeteria of the Museum of Mineralogy in Copenhagen. Despite the inhospitality of the island, there is flora in Kaffeklubben! Various mosses, liverworts, lichens, and flowering plants:

Arctic Poppy (papaver radicatum) growing from mud between pebbles.

Saxifraga oppositifolia

They grow in an minuscule islet in the middle of the ice, above 80º N, under maximum temperatures of zero (Celsius). A true miracle: flowers in the most extreme North of the Earth.



It is rather amusing to understand who owns these islands. To start,  all of Greenland belongs geologically to North America; but also Greenland is  a large colony of Denmark, which for that reason is one of the remaining colonial empires. From a political-administrative point of view, therefore, the islands are an Overseas Territory of the European Union, although the currency used there would be the Danish krone ! I'd like 83-42 to be a no-owner, no man´s land.

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

Mirrie Dancers, a ballet of light over Burra, Shetland

"Mirrie Dancers" is how Auroras are named in the Shetland Islands. I've just received these images from 2023:

These come from Burra, West Shetlands.

Photos by Catherine Munro

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Fámjin, island of Suðuroy - café and church in a Faroese village

Any place in the Faroese archipelago could do great as Ultima Thule !


Fámjin is a small community on the west coast of Suðuroy, the southernmost of the Faroese islands. It sits on a narrow slope between lake Kirkjuvatn and a deep bay on the North Atlantic Ocean.

A picturesque village on a remote - though European - location, Fámjin is a bit surprising for keeping so lively and demanded by travellers.

Fámjin, Suðuroy

Coordinates: 61°31'60" N, 7°7'60" W
Population: < 100

The church dates from 1876; it's the main building.

On the rigth side of the back wall, the first ever Faroese flag, designed by a Faroese student  from Fámjin in 1919. Yearly festivities run in April.

Votive ship on the wall, a traditional faroese slupp (sloop).

Tombstone on the churchyard.

The high slope behind the church has a pretty waterfall with a view point over a wooden bridge.


Left, the red Bygdarhúsið Vesturhøll Comunity Hall, right the Kaffistovan, a café serving also cakes and meals.

Owned by Eirikur Olsen, previously a sailor.

Fámjin viewed from inside

National holiday - Flaggdagur, Flagship day. Celebrations by the Bygdarhúsið.

A festive concentration on the sheds dock.

The string of boatshed along the bay is the best meeting point in Fámjin.

Small boat houses back the wharf

The modern borough, on the southern tip, seems to improve on comfort and wellness; at least one house here offers accommodation to visitors.

Lake Kirkjuvatn  (=Church Lake)

A popular place with hikers, with excellent walking paths.

Wonder what a slupp is ? Here is a beauty:

Westward Ho, a perfect faroese slupp

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Jäätee, the ice road to Kärdla in the island of Hiiumaa, Estonia

After the Viking era, as part of the Hanseatic League, Estonia has been occupied by Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany and lately Russia; permanently threatened, divided, fighting for independence, Estonia obtained it briefly between 1918 and 1940, then finally since 1988 - it's hard to believe how the country managed to keep its own language and national identity.

Being a small territory, Estonia is also hampered by geographic features - over 800 islands !  1500 lakes! What terra firma, is most of Estonia just water ? On the other hand, those islands and lakes and forests around are the most precious nature of the country. The largest islands, Hiiumaa and Saaremaa, need to be interconnected between them and with mainland. In Winter, that part of the Baltic freezes into a large pack ice, thick enough to allow traffic; this route over the ice across the sea is called Jäätee :

"In wintertime roads appear over the frozen surface of seas, lakes and rivers in Estonia. On these freeways , there is nothing but whiteness as far as the horizon, perhaps a fringe of dark conifers in the rear-view mirror, and total silence. This makes for an eerie driving experience on the route that runs for 26 km from the port of Rohuküla on the mainland coast of Estonia across the Baltic Sea to the island of Hiiumaa. "

" Here, on Europe's longest jäätee, there are a few markings to follow. A car spins along in the track made by previous vehicles, passing an occasional traffic sign or guided by large juniper branches, 'planted' upright like trees growing magically from the snow to indicate the edges of the road ."

"During the journey, which can take at least an hour, the traveller watches the cinematic view play through the windscreen, and it might feel as if they are driving off the edge of the world. A good soundtrack is recommended."

" It is both a relief and a disappointment when Hiiumaa's coastline appears, a faint shadow in the far distance. The meditative skyline and the slim silver jäätee are soon replaced by salted tarmac and slushy roundabouts, and all the messy dockside infrastructure of tollgates and Portakabins, streetlamps and telegraph poles.

Ice roads are open only during the hours of daylight, and even then snow flurries may decrease visibility. The road is a shortcut, as the crow flies, but no one should rush it - or slip into a dawdling dream. Drivers must keep to speeds of between 25 km/h and 40 km/h - the lowest limit is important. No stopping is allowed. This is a precaution against changes in the car's rate of progress causing wave under the ice; if such a wave accumulates it can be strong enough to crack it. "( ...)

    from Nancy Campbell, "Fifty Words for Snow"

Hiiumaa is a flat island, with nothing remarkable except a few old windmills of a type you seldom see elsewhere.

Kärdla is the main village, with a museum.

The old fire station, now tourist office.

Kärdla street in winter.

'Pikk Maja', the long house - a museum. 

Finally a warm comfy place: the museum's cafeteria. 

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