February 05, 2020

My previous blog post explained 5 reasons why Greenland should be your next photography destination. So, in this post, let me expand on just one aspect of one of those items – the landscapes are amazing – and talk about ice.

Ice Detail of the Russell Glacier near KangerlussuaqRussell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq

With 80% of its landmass covered by the world’s second-largest ice sheet, Greenland is the place to go to photograph ice. There is not a day go by that you won’t encounter it in one of its forms, and the sheer scale of it is something you have to see to believe.

Read on to discover what and where to photograph ice when you visit Greenland.

The Ice Sheet

Make sure you grab a window seat for your flight to Greenland as the views as you fly over the edges of enormous icecap are spectacular! The world’s second-largest ice sheet crouches just behind the jagged peaks of the East Greenland coastline and continues, almost uninterrupted, for the next several hundred kilometres until the West coast finally comes into view. At times, it can be difficult to tell what is ice/snow and what are clouds as you fly over this desolate landscape.

Flying over the Greenland IcesheetFlying over the Greenland Ice sheet 

But seeing the ice sheet from the air is not your only option. If you would like to get more up close and personal with the “inland ice”, there are tours that allow you to explore ice caves, walk up onto the icecap to see it stretch away for as far as the eye can see, and even spend a night camping on the ice sheet itself. Each of these activities provides different photographic opportunities, and some truly spectacular images have been captured on the Greenland Icecap.

Glaciers

There are thousands of glaciers in Greenland, though most of them are difficult to access. The two most visited glaciers are the Eqi Glacier located just north of Ilulissat, and the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq.

Person on boat close to Eqi glacier near Ilulissat, Greenland You get quite close to Eqi glacier near Ilulissat.

Eqi is a very active glacier where you are almost guaranteed to see at least small calving events (still very exciting) during the 2 hours most tours usually spend near the glacier face. You can also stay in a small luxury accommodation lodge at the glacier if you would like a longer time to watch the glacier’s action.

The calving Eqi glacier near IlulissatThe calving Eqi glacier near Ilulissat 

You can get much closer to the Russell Glacier, which is less active but still does calve regularly (ie don’t get too close!). The view looking up at the ~60m tall face is something that really has to be experienced, and the patterns in the rocks that have been exposed by the retreating glacier are some of my favourites in the world. Yet for the full day I spent there last year, I only saw 3 other people!

The massive Russell Glacier looming large over visitorsThe massive Russell Glacier looming large over visitors

Glaciers provide an endless range of photographs. From the flow patterns formed by the movement of the glacier when seen from above, to the changing translucency of a particular crag as the light hits it in different ways, to the exhilarating calving events that require patience, continuous shooting mode and a quick finger on the shutter release. Visiting at least one of these rivers of ice should be on your itinerary for Greenland.

 

Knud-Rasmussen-Glacier-East-GreenlandKnud Rasmussen Glacier, East Greenland

Icebergs

Icebergs are the penultimate stage of the incredibly slow transformation of the snow that has fallen on the Ice Sheet to freshwater in the fjord. And they are everywhere in Greenland! It doesn’t matter which part of Greenland you visit; you are guaranteed to see an iceberg.

Midnight sun Whale watching tour amongst the icebergsMidnight sun Whale watching tour amongst the icebergs

The most famous place to see very large icebergs is at the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Ilulissat Icefjord in West Greenland. These behemoths are calved off the fastest moving glacier outside of Antarctica and, thanks to a quirk of geography caused by the retreating glacier, get stuck on an underwater “sand bar” at the mouth of the fjord. The result is a ~60km long waterway choked solid with icebergs that eventually get released into the ocean when one of the blocking bergs breaks free. Of course, it doesn’t take long for another large iceberg to get stuck on the sand bar, meaning that you are guaranteed to see enormous icebergs no matter when you visit.

Whales-and-boat-tours-amongst-the-enormous-icebergs-Ilulissat-North-GreenlandWhales and boat tours amongst the enormous icebergs Ilulissat North Greenland

The town of Ilulissat is located only 2km North of the Icefjord, which means it is very easy to experience the icebergs from land or from the sea. There are 3 main hiking trails that offer different views over the icebergs (including one that is a boardwalk), or you can take one of a number of boat tours (or a kayaking tour) for a waterline perspective. This will give you a true sense of the size of these enormous cathedrals of ice.

If you want to get more off the beaten path, massive icebergs are also a feature of the Uummannaq Fjord in North Greenland, or you can visit the Sermilik Icefjord in East Greenland for a completely different experience.

Watching the icebergs drift in the Sermilik Fjord in East GreenlandWatching the icebergs drift in the Sermilik Fjord in East Greenland

Here, millions of icebergs are calved off several very active feeder glaciers to fill the fjord with an impressive amount of ice. Unlike in Ilulissat, these icebergs move freely during the warmer months, and watching their delicate ballet from the tiny, remote settlement of Tiniteqilaaq is absolutely mesmerizing. I highly recommend time-lapse photography!

How do I get to Greenland to photograph ice?

Travelling to Greenland is actually not as difficult as youmight think. There are regular flights from both Denmark and Iceland, or you can join a guided tour from Copenhagen or Reykjavik that takes care of everything for you.

Amazing-light-sunset-Ilulissat-North-GreenlandThe amazing Ilulissat Icefjord

Guide to Greenland is the best online marketplace where you can book most of the day- and multi-day tours available throughout Greenland in advance. They also have comprehensive and practical guides to many of the major towns – including Ilulissat, Uummannaq, Tasiilaq (gateway to Tiniteqilaaq and Sermilik Fjord) and Nuuk, the capital. For content of a more inspirational nature, go to Visit Greenland - the government tourism site.

See you soon in Greenland!

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