In Greenland, sand as a new horizon

In Greenland, sand as a new horizon

Of the countless fjords that cut into the western 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 airstrip ceded by the American army at the end of the Second World War, is located in the the very axis of the fjord.

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

Posted on the hills a few kilometers from the site, Daniel Lennert Johnsen is able to identify the origin of each airliner approaching this airport at the end of the world. Originally from Sisimiut, a coastal town of 5,500 inhabitants, the 20-year-old driver settled here after his schooling in Denmark, fascinated by these wild and empty landscapes: “Do 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, vast as four times the size of France, has only 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 wraps the hills”confides the young man.

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

Daniel Lennert Johnsen, educated in Denmark, returned to settle in Greenland for the immensity of its landscapes.  In Kangerlussuaq, May 23, 2022.
Water and ice sculpt the sand deposits of Sondre Strom, in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, May 23, 2022.

This abundance is not surprising given the geological history of Greenland. “Glacial erosion is one of the most effective agents for shaping the earth’s crust and producing sediments, recalls Eric Chaumillon, specialist in marine geology at the University of La Rochelle-CNRS. However, the polar regions are warming up very quickly, so the glacial melting 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 produces a windfall effect in the polar regions by giving access to hitherto untapped resources. For them, it’s a bit like discovering the New World! »

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