To Greenland’s coasts
In Summer 2020, our Polarquest team set out on an expedition and survey of the coasts of Greenland, visiting select places in order to describe its unique environment and features. The mission aimed for the Blosseville coast which, due to its volcanic origin, makes it very interesting to environmental science. Its unique ecosystems can give clues to future development induced by climate change.
Due to dangerous conditions, the expedition was cut short. Nevertheless, excellent scientific data was taken in the Greenland waters – particularly around the Nansen fjord! The team took samples of sediments by snorkelling at the bottom of fjords and lakes, looking for evidence of micro- and nano-plastic pollution.
Meet the Nanuq2020 Adventurers
Polarquest adventurer Kevin Monneron and Gaspard Durieux set off on board Nanuq – the same glorious sustainable sailing vessel we used during the Polarquest2018 expedition. They crossed the Arctic Ocean from Iceland to Greenland to explore the Blosseville glacier.
Kevin is a free-diver scientist who explored the cold waters under the Arctic sea and the Greenland lakes. Gaspard is an experienced sailor and water scientist, who assisted in and communicated about the adventure.
31 July 2020
Sailing boat Nanuq leaves the island of Gremsey just outside of the polar circle and heads to Greenland. With icebergs everywhere in the dark, Kevin shares his story:
“We left Grimsey at 21.00. We can’t afford to rest, for the journey ahead is going to be difficult. As the waves and wind escalate, we change teams every 8 hours for 2 hour shifts.
“We are bundled in jackets, wax, mittens and hats. It’s cold and the wind is blowing now with gusts of over 40 knots. The crew holds on but seasickness settles in for some. The 19 m height of Nanuq seems to disappear in the immensity and surrounding desolation.
“Around 1 am, I spotted the first iceberg and I wake up the captain. Then begins a worrying dance between the icebergs, which are easily confused with foam of the agitated sea in the dark of the night. We’re taking on too much speed, we need to reduce the sails. I take down the big sail in heavy rain and, in the cold, I can’t feel my fingers.
“At last, we have escaped danger and begin to move out of the field of icebergs. For the next shift, the winds are even stronger and the rain whips our eyes.”
1 August 2020
Sail boat Nanuq approaches the South East coast of Greenland to explore the Blosseville coast, where the peaks are named after Switzerland. As Kevin describes it:
“Terra! Terre en vue! Land! We finally see Greenland, it’s immense. A slight mist is visible at the foot of the mountains!”
2 August 2020
Nanuq continues around Greenland, heading to the fjords.
“The sea has calmed down and it’s almost no longer raining. Suddenly the mist in the distance leaves, and an iceberg field starts to appear. We remove all the sails and continue using the engine. We’re getting closer to Nansen fjord!”
3 August 2020
Kevin dives into the arctic waters of the Nansen fjord on the southeast coast of Greenland. This is his first scientific dive in such conditions, and he collects samples looking for plastic pollution. He shares the story:
“Our crew stopped by Nansen Fjord. Imagine azure-green water dotted with saturated blue icebergs, surrounded by high protruding mountains of a dark black. This sight is broken by the deafening noise of icebergs breaking under waves, makes you seem like an intruder amidst this immense vista. Our trip was productive, as I was able to perform my first scientific dive to take some measurements in this water. Visibility does not exceed 1 m and the temperature at 7 m is -0.5°C. Both magical and terrifying.
“Our ground crews split the work into general enthusiasm. On the ship’s scientific programme, there was mapping of vegetation carried out by drone, photogrammetry of flora, and the methane content of water was surveyed. The day ends with DST probe measurements in the Fjord. We spent the night here celebrating this productive day with a good meal.”
“I perform my first scientific dive in the Arctic waters. Visibility does not exceed 1m and the temperature at 7m is -0.5°C.
It is both magical and terrifying.”
Polarquest Team Member and Arctic Diver
4 August 2020
Polar bear spotted! Swimming in the same waters as Kevin himself, a curious bear approaches Nanuq. Kevin describes the experience:
“In the early morning we send Tamara, a climber and mountaineer at the top of the 20 m mast to install Gopros for a time lapse. While our entire crew has eyes on the top of the mast, Ophelia our photographer pays attention to a white form in the water swimming towards the back of the boat. It took a while to realise it was a polar bear!
“This pretty curious bear was less than 5 m from the boat, before moving back to the coast once spotted. He emerges out of the water and turns for a moment to survey us in his territory.
“It is a glorious sight, but we must stay careful and avoid the ice. The conditions of the ice have suddenly changed from orange (closed drift ice) to yellow (open drift ice). It is the time to go, and we head north and leave this place untouched – only with unforgettable memories.”
6 August 2020
While the rest of Europe endures a major heatwave, Nanuq finds itself trapped in the Arctic ice! By early morning 6 August, they’ve already been stranded in the ice for 12 hours and there is little chance of any respite. All they can do is wait. Kevin shares his experience:
“It’s 4 am on August 6th 2020, and I’m waking up to take back my shift. We went to bed at 2 am, when we were caught in ice. All was calm when suddenly an unexpected current appeared about ten meters from our ship. Three icebergs, each the size of a building, gained speed and came right towards us.
“We were caught in this same current as the icebergs and there was no escape. We tried to get away from it by pushing as against the ice around us to make a path. The ice was closing in front of us, and all we could do is push backwards against another ice plate.
“Quickly, we turned to our rudder. The submerged part of the rudder had to be pulled out of the water before it could get stuck in the ice… but we were too late. Despite our best efforts and the call to rescue the rudder, we had to surrender to the forces between the ice and the boat.
“Nanuq will be released eventually and there is nothing to do but wait. Overall it was an unreal day, as we tried pushing the boat out of the ice pack in waterproof suits.”
7 August 2020
Nanuq is out of the ice! The team make up for their time lost in the ice and travel quickly north east for the Bloseville Coast. The weather outlook is good for the next few days and they anticipate a safe return.
8 August 2020
While Nanuq continued up the coast of Greenland, weather and bear reports look daunting. Blosseville is almost completely closed in and the few accessible places will likely have several polar bears. A great risk of getting locked into the ice for an unforseeable time.
The captain decides to cut the expedition short for the safety of the crew and take advantage of the favourable winds to cross back to Iceland.