Preparations for our diving expedition were begun the summer preceding our visit, in August 2000 it took place. We flew first from Copenhagen in Denmark to Kangerlussuaq (in the southwest of Greenland) and from there, after changing to a smaller turboprop aircraft, to the town of Aasiaat. Located on the southwest rim of the Disko Bay, in the west of Greenland.
Five weeks before our departure we shipped, by sea, 9 crates of equipment (two inflatables, outboard motors, two compressors, air tanks, jackets, dry suits, tents, and foodstuffs). All this had arrived without problems in Aasiaat. All in all we were 12 adventurers, who came primarily for diving, but to hike as well.
First, we intended to set up our camp on the island where Aasiaat is located. That way we could walk to town to purchase some small luxuries. But there was no suitable site. On advice of Kurt, a local professional diver, we found a good site on the bigger island to the south of Aasiaat. In a small bay we found an ideal camp site. The bay shelved smoothly, ideal for loading and unloading the inflatables, fairly flat ground for the tents, and standing freshwater ponds.
The first thing was to move all our equipment, in the two inflatables, to the bay. This took several trips. Moreover, rain and wind increased. Typically I had buried my rain gear deep in my rucksack. Much too quickly I was wet through and got seriously cold - okay, not too seriously. But it was some time until we had the tents up. Just in time to turn in exhausted at 2 am!
Driftwood and some slats from a dilapidated foundation served us for building a table and a shower. The shower was "professionally" built : the framework was a pyramidal construction closed on three sides by a tarpaulin. The shower bag with the hot (warm) water was suspended from the apex. A former fish box served us for a floor. This was the the de-luxe model of a shower !!! Of course you know, only dirty people have to wash, and obviously there were 12 specimens in our camp. Three times I used the opportunity to take a warm shower.
The first few days it was wet and cold. Wednesday then the sky cleared and the sun came out. This introduced us to another problem, the mosquito riffraff ! As long as a fresh wind was blowing, they were tolerable. But when wind died away the mosquitos would descend in clouds upon the camp, they were everywhere. I prefer more direct methods of protection in such situations, most of the others "bathed" in Autan, the Chemical Mace. On one of my walks it was especially nasty. The sun was shining and a bracing breeze was blowing, then the wind died. I was engulfed in clouds of biting female mosquitos, every which way I turned. I returned to camp barely in command of my sanity. My tolerance with the mosquitos in my tent ended abruptly and I killed every one I could reach.
Of course, diving was what we were here for. The camp was located right at the waters edge so we made quite a lot of dives in our "home bay". The bay was shelved gently, the bottom mainly consisting of sand. Moving further out of the baythere was a rocky reef and beyond this the bottom dropped from 6m to 15m -- 18m. Most of the sea life was to be found deeper than 6m : many starfishes (different species) and two species of sea-urchins, and quite a lot of flatfish. Also wolf-fishes (Catfish) (about 1m in length, 15cm in diameter, big mouth with sharp teeth) do live here --- during our first dive here we saw four individuals. I was surprised by the abundence of Short-spined sea-scorpions (bull-rout) --- similar to the scorpionfishes in the Mediterranean Sea. They were very curious and swam to us divers --- not only to defend their territory. (One of them even bit into my middle finger !) When I was taking pictures they regularly swam under me and sat on the bottom completely unafraid! This is how it must have been in the early days of diving, when there were more fishes than divers in the water and the fishes didn't show any inhibitions with these strange bubble blowing creatures!
We also found some holothuriae (seacucumbers) here. Though at the first moment I didn't recognise them, because at one end of their body they extend a thick tentacle garland into the water, with which they filter particles from the water. Then the tentacles go to the mouth, where the particles are now stripped off. Following this the tentacles are put into the water again. (The seacucumbers which I know from the Mediterranean look like "cucumbers" and wear no tentacle garland.) We identified three species of seacucumbers : two are more or less free sitting on the bottom, and the third has its body buried in the sand, only the white tentacles are held into the free water. The body of this species has no pigments and is light flesh-coloured. From the first two the bigger one is nearly black coloured, and the smaller one is intense reddish with the body covered by green algae.
Green and brown algae were found only in our home bay in the shallow water in a restricted area. To my astonishment (and disappointment) at all other dive spots there were neither seaweeds nor kelp to be found. In our bay we were almost certainly the first to dive. At other places we presumably were the first, too. Everywhere the scorpionfish were "tame", the wolf-fishes lay free on the ground and showed neither fear nor great interest in us.
Another, very interesting spot was the "new whale station". Here the skeletons of harpooned whales lie in the shallow water down to a depth of 10m. The bones are densely settled with sea-urchins and the ground is strewn with the large black seacucumbers - more than one specimen per square meter !
Kurt had told us about some wrecks, too. Some years ago a freighter caught fire in the harbour of Aasiaat. Unable to extinguish the fire the freighter was towed outside and sank about 500m from the harbour. Today it rests in about 15m on the bottom near a small island off-shore of Aasiaat. Of course we were curious, about the state of the wreck ! It took us three attempts to find it - because we had the map the wrong way around! Overgrown with algae, there is not much left of the wreck. Some of us readily would have taken away a coat of arms with a polar bear on it, but luckily it was so strongly fixed, that they had no chance! Take only photographs.
There was quite a regular parade of smaller or larger icebergs passed by in the nearby sound and sometimes one of them would run aground. Of course, we dived at several icebergs. Above water they don't look so big, but underwater they are really huge !
On our last day of diving we lifted an anchor and chain for Kurt in the scrap yard bay off Aasiaat. At a depth of about 10m there are three former fishing cutters resting side by side on the bottom, quietly rusting and deteriorating. Due to the cloudy water and a overcast sky the scene was quite eerie, in 30min we had finished our film.
Unfortunately on most of our dives the visibility was poor. Photographs of the overall view of icebergs or wrecks were not possible. Because the algae were no longer blossoming we had expected better visibility. Sometimes we had only 2m, most of the time we had 5m - 8m.
When we weren't diving the interior of the island beckoned. The highest "summit" had an altitude of 245m, from where one had a good panorama to the inland ice (So I was told) and the Disko Bay with many icebergs. Due to lack of time (and not wanting to distress the rest of the group because of my prolonged absence) I hiked only a slightly lower "mountain", from where I enjoyed the scenic view over the fiords to Disko island.
The landscape is hilly with often rocky ground, mostly rubbed round by ice. The main vegetation consists of lichen and mosses (in thick cushions), at some spots there is grass growing, too. Due to the skerry-like character of the landscape with many islands and fiords, the sun low on the horison, and many freshwater ponds on "our" island, there was always an interessting view to be had.
Besides some gulls, the commonly seen birds were Snow Bunting. On one of my hikes I was lucky to see a Gyrfalcon. There are very few plants living in Greenland. At some spots there grew unidentified plants with reddish petals. Southern Greenland has a wider range of species, with a gentler climate of course. For myself I wouldn't choose Greenland for a trekking holiday, the landscape is too monotonous for my taste.
Without trying to be offensive, the Greenlanders don't care much about environmental protection. The town of Aasiaat has about 3500 inhabitants making it one of the largest settlements in Greenland. Compared to this the scrap yard is huge. The bay, where we made our camp, is rarely visited by people. Yet there was plenty of washed up waste. Even in freshwater ponds, some hundred metres distant from the sea, we found plastic garbage more than once. At the weekend with good weather conditions the Greenlanders go by boat to neighbouring islands to picnic. Empty tins, glass bottles all were get left behind without a thought.
All in all the expedition was a really harmonious one. Serious quarrels arose only when it came to the necessities of life. One day "by chance" a beer crate reached the camp. Alcoholic drinks are not cheap in Greenland. And now 20 bottles were to be distributed to 11 people (I don't drink any alcohol, it's not my taste) . . . So we run a list. The next morning all bottles were empty, but only 18 markers were put on the list. Because of this circumstance it was decided, that everyone should buy his or her own beer. In the evening several beer crates were stored in the camp, each marked with insulating tape and the name of the owner. But nevertheless there were still some minor troubles.
Whales would pass through the sound from time to time. At first we thought the noise was the working of the ice and the development of crevasses in icebergs. Then we - unfortunately not I, because I was collecting water - saw the whales in the sound. From time to time we did hear the characteristic noise, when the whales blow air. It's a bang-like noise. Some of us were diving with the zodiac and tried to get close to the whales. But the whales kept a distance of about 100m.
Finally I want to report about a, for me, special event. On the last day but one we struck camp and transported all the equipment back to Aasiaat, where it was again packed in the crates for shipping. A group of us wanted to go by ship to Ilulissat, to see more and larger icebergs. Therefore we spent the last two nights in Aasiaat in a school in our sleeping bags. This room was accessible only by a footbridge, from which we had a nice view down to the harbour and the setting sun. The weather was perfectly good clear blue sky and it was warm enough to sit only in a T-shirt.
So we sat in front of the room watching the sun setting behind an islet off of Aasiaat. When the sun's upper edge disappeared behind the horizon, for a moment we had the opportunity to see the so-called "green flash"! This atmospheric spectacle is seen only rarely, and in Germany there is no chance for it, because the air is too dirty. In Greenland the air is clear and one has a free view to the horizon. The next evening, our last, I was waiting with the camera, sadly we didn.t see it a second time.
What's the explanation for the "green flash"? First, you need a free view to the horizon and the air must be clear. White light (e.g. light from the sun) is refracted by a prism into the spectral colours ("rainbow colours"), because the different wave lengths have different indices of refraction. In this case the atmosphere is the prism. At the horizon the refraction is strongest. Because of this the last visible segment of the setting sun is split into its spectral colours. So we have a red (below), green (mid), and blue (top) edge - but this splitting is very little. The red edge diminishes first. But atmosperic scattering is most effective in removing the blue light. Therefore, with good luck one can see a green edge to the sun.
If you like some pictures from the expedition . . . (I'm sorry, but captures are in German, so far !)
Kai Schröder, 27.8.2001