In Greenland, the sand as a new horizon

Of the numerous fjords that cut through the west coast of Greenland, Sondre Strom is one of the largest. One of the most familiar also for travelers brought to cross this territory of 2 million square kilometers. Because the largest airport on the island, the only one where transatlantic flights can land due to the presence of a long runway ceded by the American army at the end of the Second World War, is located on the very axis of the fjord.

Sondre Strom fjord gives access to a huge sand spit located near Kangerlussuaq under Russell Glacier, here May 23, 2022.
On the banks of the river that flows into Sondre Strom fjord, this sand deposit is one of the largest in Greenland.  In Kangerlussuaq, May 22, 2022.

Posted in the hills a few kilometers from the site, Daniel Lennert Johnsen is able to identify the origin of every plane that approaches this end-of-the-world airport. Originally from Sisimiut, a coastal town of 5,500, the 20-year-old driver settled here after studying in Denmark, fascinated by these wild, empty landscapes: “You realize that we are the country in the world with the most space per inhabitant. » And for good reason: 85% covered in ice, the largest island in the northern hemisphere, four times the size of France, has just 56,000 inhabitants, including 19,000 in Nuuk, the capital, 300 kilometers further south. “I love driving in these wide tundra-covered spaces, and winter is magical here, when the fjord is frozen in ice and a blanket of snow envelops the hills”the young man confides.

Inexhaustible in the way of life of arctic hares, caribou or musk oxen, introduced to Kangerlussuaq in the 1950s – the shipping containers securing their transport from Norway’s rust on the airport roadside – Daniel is less aware of the natural resources that abound in the region and the desires they arouse. Starting with the one that occupies the entire line of the horizon that he scans with his eyes: the sand. On this May day, when Sonde Strom is ice-free, an endless tongue of sand stretches out to sea, trodden only by migratory birds or a few white foxes.

Daniel Lennert Johnsen, educated in Denmark, re-established himself in Greenland due to the immensity of its landscapes.  In Kangerlussuaq, May 23, 2022.
Water and ice carve the Sondre Strom sand deposits in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, May 23, 2022.

This abundance is not surprising given Greenland’s geological history. “Glacial erosion is one of the most effective agents for shaping the Earth’s crust and producing sediments, recalls Eric Chaumillon, a specialist in marine geology at the University of La Rochelle-CNRS. However, the polar regions are heating up very quickly, so glacial melt is very strong there. “For most of the planet, climate change is accompanied by disasters, more frequent flooding in low-lying areas, accelerated thawing of permafrost in the mountains, continues the teacher-researcher. But it has an unexpected effect in the polar regions, giving access to hitherto unexplored resources. For them, it’s a bit like discovering the New World! »

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