Nature and climate

Location and transport

The east coast of Greenland is one of the most isolated areas in the Northern Hemisphere, and it provides only little in terms of facilities or support for field research. The nearest settlements, where the only rescue services are to be found, are in Ammassalik and Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresby Sund), both around 400 km away. Since the loss of M/V Einar Mikkelsen in 1993, there are no regular ship services on the coast. A local air-strip of around 1 km length has been established on a gravel plain in Sødalen approximately 15 km to the west of the intrusion and can be reached by twin-otter from Iceland. Transport from Sødalen, however, needs to be arranged with helicopter. Sea access is possible during the late summer months, and sheltered anchorage can be found in Uttental Sund and Hjemsted Bugt. However, the entrance to Uttental Sund is strewn with skerries and small islets which prevent large ships from entering. The best passageway appears to be close to the south coast of Kraemer Ø.

Climate and weather

Ice conditions in the Denmark StraitUnlike Northern Europe and Iceland the climate of East Greenland does not benefit from the warm Atlantic waters of the Gulf Stream. In contrast, the strong East Greenland current provides the main drainage from the Arctic Ocean and draws cold waters from the Polar region south along the coast. Usually the transition from North Atlantic to Arctic conditions is abrupt and impressive. It is marked by the appearance of sea ice and a new marine fauna. During the winter and spring the sea ice can extend more than halfway across the Denmark Strait creating an impassable barrier to ships, but the steady melting during the summer means that the ice concentration is at its minimum from the start of August to mid-October where it is normally limited to sporadic icebergs. The cold East Greenland current is the single most important factor for the climate, and the vegetation along most of the coast is minimal trees and bushes being absent north of Skjoldungen several hundreds of kilometres to the south.

Sea mist moving in over the Skaergaard Peninsula during the late afternoonSummer temperatures in the Skaergaard area are best described as chilly and warm. Although generally there are many sunshine hours, chilly breezes and fogs move in during the afternoon close to sea level. Rain can be expected during the occasional passage of a depression, which generally takes from two to three days, and good waterproofs are generally the only protection that can be relied on. The Skaergaard area is barren and snow covered for 9-11 months of the year, and even during the summer period lakes and streams may still be partially ice covered. Occasionally the area is subjected to katabatic winds of hurricane force from inland (known locally as "piteraqs"). The winds are warm and dry and usually last a couple of hours during which they pose a serious threat to tents and other light equipment. These winds have generated a rich store of anecdotes, but occur rarely in the summer months when field work is undertaken.

Flora and fauna

Vegetation in the Skaergaard area is very scarce and consists mainly of mosses and low hardy scrubs growing in sheltered areas between rocks. The most common wildlife is arctic foxes and grouses with the occasional polar bear visiting the area; in the sea there are seals and passing flocks of narwhales. As a relief for Arctic travellers, the area is too cold for mosquitoes or other insects to breed. Freshwater is readily available from the melting snow and glaciers but the supply freezes up for most of the year and is not steady enough to sustain an extensive plant life.

Administration and logistics

Research and recreational activities on Greenland are coordinated through the Danish Polar Centre, and the mineral rights governed by the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum (Government of Greenland). Research and recreational activities must be reported to the Danish Polar Centre, permissions are required for foreign ships to enter the Greenlandic territorial waters, for the use of firearms and radio equipment. If sample collection is required, the necessary permits are needed from the mineral concession holders (the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum holds lists of concession holders). Commercial sampling requires a concession.

Going to East Greenland? Take a look at the stuff we pack here

Ice charts by courtesy of the National Ice Center, NOAA, accessed 25 July 2001.

© 2003