Flora and fauna


The harsh climatic conditions, combined with the gravelly nature of the sparse soil (lack of chemical weathering), which leads to rapid run-off, results in desert-like conditions. That the paucity of vegetation is connected with lack of water is evident  from the relatively luxuriant patches of willow (Salix sp.), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) and numerous flowers such as Arnica, Campanula, Gentiana, Viscaria, Chamaenerion  and Oxyria  that can be found beneath melting snow patches on slopes. The entire coastline from Scoresbysund to Ammasalik is unusually poor in vegetation in comparison to areas both to the north and the south, because of the narrowness of the ice-free land and the proximity of abundant drift ice and its associated fogs.

Another factor very important to the distribution of plants is the aspect. Thus south-facing slopes are snow-free in summer and, when watered, become vegetated. North-facing slopes are usually covered with permanent snow and ice. This situation is clearly seen on either side of Forbindelsesgletscher, where the south-facing Pukugaqryggen ("Crowberry Ridge") has many green willows and crowberries clinging to the rocks, the other side is largely snow-covered. This factor is well-known to the Inuit, whose language makes a clear distinction between the sunny and  shaded sides ("sarqaq" and "alangoq", respectively).

This is but one example of the local effects which are important to climate here. Another is the degree of exposure to cold fjord winds with their accompanying fogs, and, as noted above, vegetation - especially flowering plants - is noticeably sparser at sea level, where these conditions are frequent. The inner parts of the fjord also differ from Skærgård in having a more continental or high Arctic climate. Precipitation is much lower and fogs are absent (except in rainy periods). On suitable slopes (i.e. south-facing) vegetation is relatively abundant with characteristic high Arctic plants such as Arctic poppy (Papaver radicatum) and the heather (Cassiope tetragona), which are absent or sporadic on the coast.


The only land animals around Skærgård are a few Arctic foxes and occasional bears. However, in 1972, the Westminster School expedition recovered a reindeer antler from the Frederiksborg Glacier and, in 1991, Dennis Bird and Bob Gannicott found a reindeer skeleton with hair on Hutchinson Plateau. Thus, other animals have been present in times gone by. Birds include several types of gulls, guillemots, eider duck, geese, ravens, divers (loons), ptarmigan, small waders and land birds (such as the snow bunting), the occasional Greenland falcon and possibly a rare snowy owl. Although some of these birds are occasionally eaten, they tend to be ignored unless seals fail.

The sea, however, is rich in mammals: the fjord or ringed seal, the bearded seal, the bladdernosed seal, the Greenland seal and the occasional walrus along with whales. Whales include large baleen whales, which I have not been able to identify, and toothed whales including the killer whale and most importantly numerous narwhals, which migrate into Kangerlussuaq in the summer and are an important quarry for Inuit hunters. Seals and narwhals are the primary quarry of the Inuit hunter.

Fish are sparse in the waters of the fjord and are limited to species such as polar cod or "uvaq" (Gradus ogae), sculpin (several species) and capelin or "ammassat" although these last do not seem to form dense shoals as they do further south. A small population of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) occurs in Vandfaldsdalen and Sødalen (Miki Fjord). None of these fish are of any importance in the local economy.

The most esteemed quarry from the hunters point of view is the polar bear, both from the prestige which is accrued by successful hunters and from the value of  its meat and skin. In common with other Inuit communities, numerous traditions are connected with the hunting of bears and the distribution of parts of the animal. Numbers of bears seem to swing greatly, perhaps depending on the intensity of hunting. Whereas in 1986-87 about 50 were caught after a period of three years without hunting, in 1987-1988 this number fell to 14. As the number killed in 1935-36 was 28 (3 hunters) and in 1990-91 it was 22 with a similar number of hunters, the numbers do not seem to have fallen drastically. While no geologist has yet been attacked by a bear, there are at least two occasions when inquisitive animals have proved troublesome and it is advisable to be prepared for this eventuality.

A great blessing of the Skærgård area, resulting from the uniformly low temperatures and almost constant winds, is that mosquitoes are virtually non-existent, in contrast to the sheltered, well vegetated valleys of Ammassalik to the south and the fjord country beyond Scoresbysund to the north, where they can be unbearable.

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