The Arctic Heat photography project was born during the 2020 global pandemic. When the Covid-19 lockdown confined me to my home in Thessaloniki with no immediate prospects of travel, the need for my mind to “escape”, sent me down some cold, Arctic trails. My passion for anything snow- or ice-related, my long friendship with Mike Styllas and our discussions about his own experience in Greenland, made that island the obvious choice for my daydreams.
A ticket bought in the heart of the pandemic, many, many schedule alterations, three flights and two Covid tests later, I stepped foot in Ilulissat on August 6th, 2020. I had read a lot and seen endless material online; I knew something of what to expect, and what I wanted to capture. Yet, as is often the case in such adventures, nothing could have prepared me for the overall experience of being there, of experiencing Greenland with all of my senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste – all on full alert!
In the series of images accompanying this test, I have tried to provide a general impression of life in Greenland – everyday life, the marine mammals that you come into such close contact to on the small boats whizzing around the ice-strewn sea, the giant glaciers producing the planet’s life-giving icebergs… Of course, a week’s stay is much too short for going into any depth on any of these subjects – in any case, Greenland is more than endless summer daylight! Arctic Heat will continue, moving on to discover the arctic winter in Greenland, getting to know the harsher aspects of life on an island with first-hand experience of the impact of climate change.
In the coming months, I intend to create a digital photobook, with more images and information about the past, the present, and the potential future of Greenland.
All of this would have remained a pleasant daydream if it weren’t for certain people. A big thank you for organizing this whole trip, to Sofia Vlavianou, who I work with at The Lifetime Experience. A big thank you to Canon Greece, for standing by me all these years and supporting my ventures. A big thank you to Plaisio store, for not hesitating even briefly before deciding to share my vision. And a big thank you to Arctic Heat’s other supporters: Manios Cine Tools, Peak Design and 55 Peaks.
Thursday, 06 August 2020: Arrival in Kangerlussuaq on an Airbus 330-200 (278 passengers) from Copenhagen, and transfer to a de Havilland DHC-8 (37 passengers) bound for Ilulissat! Landing in both airports is impressive, as you fly over glaciers, while arrival at Ilulissat is preceded by the first sighting of the famous icefjord – just under the aircraft’s wing, you can see giant icebergs starting they voyage to the North Atlantic. A truly breathtaking view!
Ilulissat, with a population of 4670 in 2020, is the third largest town in Greenland. It was established by Jacob Severin in 1741 as a trading post, and was initially named after him (Jakobshavn). The town’s current name means (of course!) “icebergs” in Kalaallisut (West Greenlandic).
The town’s houses are made of wood, but are “anchored” to the bedrock with metal and cement. They are all painted in bright colours, making them visible from a distance to fishermen returning from the iceberg-strewn sea, or to sledges returning from the endless white of winter…
All the houses face the ocean. A sea view is very important to the locals – not being able to see the sea from their windows is a depressing thought.
The main economic activities in Ilulissat, since its establishment about 250 years ago, are fishing and hunting. In recent years, these professions have been complemented by tourism, which has known significant growth in the past couple of decades. It is worth noting that the rising temperatures caused by climate change have led to a noteworthy growth of the fishing industry, as less sea ice means more time for fishing in the open sea each year.
The narrow port of Ilulissat, in Disko Bay, is – together with the local airport – the beating heart of the settlement. It hosts the bustling marina, full to overflowing with the locals’ boats, piers for the larger fishing boats, the Royal Greenland processing plant, and the dock where large containers full of vital supplies for the town are offloaded. The water in the port rarely freezes, but it is sometimes obstructed by icebergs floating round from the icefjord – which are summarily blown up to restore access!
Zions Kirke church was built at the end of the 18th century, and was – at the time – the largest man-made structure in Greenland.
Around 90% of Greenlanders are of Inuit descent. In the Greenlandic language, the island is called Kalaallit Nunaat, meaning “Land of the People”, and has been inhabited more or less regularly for the last 4,500 years. The nomadic Thule tribe arrived here from Northern Canada in the 13th century, bringing their sledges and sledge dogs with them.
Fisherman and hunter is often the same thing here, since seals are hunted off boats in the summer, and using sledges in the winter. A practice that is condemned by many acquires a different dimension when you realize that hunting, here, is not a hobby, but a matter of survival – in a land with zero trees, and minimal fresh fruit, seal meat offers valuable minerals and vitamins.
In Greenlandic culture, women are important, dynamic figures, symbolized by the ulu, the traditional curved knife used to skin seals. In fact, according to legend, ice is not the result of low temperatures, but is created by the sound of an ulu falling to the ground out of a woman’s hand.
Sledge dogs are good-looking animals, and the puppies are cute as can be, but they aren’t pets. There are fields all around town where they spend the summers, playing and resting before starting their tough jobs in winter. Today, there are about as many sledge dogs are there are people in Ilulissat, but not long ago there were almost 15,000 – almost ten times as many as the town’s human inhabitants!
The Ilulissat Glacier and Icefjord (Ilulissat Kangerlua) extends westwards from the Greenland Ice Cap to Disko Bay, near the town of Ilulissat. The Sermeq Kujalleq glacier is located on the eastern edge of the icefjord, and is the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. The glacier flows at a rate of 20 to 35 metres a day, resulting in the detachment of icebergs with a total weight of about 20 billion tons a year, which travel through the fjord. (Πηγή:Wikipedia)
In 2004, the Ilulissat Glacier and Icefjord were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are three signposted trails in the area, with varying degrees of difficulty, all of which offer unique views of the icefjord from above. The blue trail is the longest, leading to beautiful inland lakes before reaching the glacier “mouth” and descending to sea level, passing by the ancient settlement of Sermermiut.
As you take a short break with a view of the icebergs, the only thing to shatter the absolute silence is the thunderous roar of ice detaching, dropping, overturning; and – if you’re lucky – the sound a breaching whale as it feeds in the fish- and seafood-rich waters near land.
When an iceberg breaks free from the shallow waters at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord and reaches the open sea, it is initially carried north by the currents, before heading south to the Atlantic Ocean. The larger icebergs usually don’t melt before they reach a latitude of 40 to 45 degrees north (south of Great Britain and at the same latitude as New York City).
When your brain and eyes haven’t yet become accustomed to seeing icebergs everywhere, you look at the horizon and see islands, cruise ships, boats, all kinds of vessels. You soon realize that these are nothing but ice formations, with a million different textures, colours and forms.
When you find yourself sailing among the icebergs, it is very hard to comprehend that these giants aren’t anchored to land, that they are ephemeral “islands” floating in the sea, changing shape on a daily basis and travelling away…
Ice white is not a consistent, uniform colour. Besides the changes that temperature and seawater bring about to the surface of an iceberg, the weather conditions and changing daylight add different hues and moods to the image that reaches your eyes.
Only 10-15% of an iceberg protrudes above the surface of the sea. The saltier the sea water, the higher the iceberg floats. The largest icebergs measure more than 1.5 km3. Icebergs in Ilulissat Icefjord have been measured as high as 120 metres above sea level. (Source: Experience Kangia) In Ilulissat, the locals measure climate change by the reduced size of the icebergs floating past their homes…
The Greenland Ice Cap (Sermersuaq) is a massive expanse of ice, spanning 1,710,000 square kilometres, or around 79% of Greenland. It is the second largest ice cap in the world, after Antarctica’s. It measures 2,900 kilometres from north to south, and is 1,100 kilometres at is widest (at 77°N). The average height of the ice is 2,135 metres. If the 2,850,000 cubic kilometres of ice in Greenland were to melt, the planet’s sea level would rise by about 7.2 metres!
All we can see is ice – miles of ice, a 30-storey high frozen sea, as beautiful as it is terrifying. Our captain kills the engine and turns the boat so that it faces away from the glacier, ready for a speedy departure if necessary. We are at the Eqi Glacier.
Eqi means “edge”, an entirely appropriate name for a place that feels like the end of the world, like the edge of the planet.
The sea is dead calm and silence reigns until you hear a roar, like nearby thunder or gunshots. You swiftly turn towards the sound, camera at the ready, to witness tons of shattered ice dropping into the sea, and clouds of sea-birds rising briefly into the air from their perches in front of the glacier.
In a few moments, the boat is rocked by the tsunami caused by the calving, small bits crashing into the metal hull, while your brain conjures up bigger calvings, dangerous tsunamis… But when your captain is calmly smoking on deck, you’re probably safe – for now!
The glacier is a three-hour boat ride from Ilulissat, and is accessible only from July to September, before the Ataa Strait freezes over. The glacier mouth is about 3.5 kilometres wide, with an average height of 200 metres, of which 30 to 80 metres can be seen above sea level.
One of Greenland’s biggest summer guests is the humpback whale. It comes like a migratory bird in the month of May and swims in the larger fjords along the coast until October, when it swims back to more southern climes.
This huge marine mammal is totally protected in the whole of Greenland and over recent decades, the number of humpback whales has steadily increased. Today there is a viable population of about 3,000 individuals in Greenland.
There is a small increase of a maximum of 30 individuals each year within this population, because a female typically gives birth to a calf every one to three years. Gestation takes between 11 and 12 months and the calf stays with its mother for up to a year, drinking 50 litres of its mother’s milk every day.
One characteristic of the humpback whale is the unique black and white pattern that is found on its fluke. The patterns are used by researchers to identify individuals and this makes it possible to collect information about the migration of humpback whales and their preferences for certain areas. Another characteristic is the enormous sound register of the humpback whale and its whale song is therefore world famous.
(Source: Guide to Greenland)
Megaptera novaeangliae: males are 11-17.5 metres long, while females are between 11and 19 metres long, and newborns, average about 4.3 metres. A newborn humpback whale calf weights up to 2.5 tons, with adults reaching an incredible 35 tones. Their flippers are up to five metres long! They have baleens instead of teeth, which are attached to the roof of their mouth, forming a type of filter that allows seawater to escape while retaining the small fish, krill and plankton these marine mammals feed on.
Used photographic equipment:
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6L IS II USM
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
Peak Design Travel Backpack 65L
The trip is organized by The Lifetime Experience
Ασχολείται επαγγελματικά με την φωτογραφία από το 2000 και είναι Canon Photographer από το 2015. Ειδικεύεται στην φωτογραφία τοπίου και δράσεων στη φύση, όπως ορεινό τρέξιμο, αναρρίχηση, ορειβασία, ορεινή ποδηλασία, ορειβατικό σκι κ.ά., ενώ έχει καλύψει ταξιδιωτικά θέματα και ορειβατικές αποστολές, σε χώρες της Ευρώπης, των Βαλκανίων, της Ασίας και της Αφρικής.