In Greenland, sand as a new horizon

In Greenland, sand as a new horizon

In Greenland, sand as a new horizon

Of the countless fjords that cut through Greenland’s west coast, Sondre Strom is one of the largest. One of the most familiar even for travelers brought to cross this territory of two 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 right on the axis of the fjord.

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

Nestled in the hills a few kilometers from the site, Daniel Lennert Johnsen is able to identify the origin of every 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 studying in Denmark, fascinated by these wild and deserted landscapes: “You realize that we are the country in the world with the most space per inhabitant. ” And for good reason: 85% ice-covered, the largest island in the Northern Hemisphere, as large as four times the size of France, has only 56,000 inhabitants, including 19,000 in Nuuk, the capital, 300 kilometers further on. south. “I love driving in these wide spaces covered with tundra, and the winter here is magical, when the fjord is frozen and a blanket of snow envelops the hills”confides the young man.

Inexhaustible on the lifestyle of arctic hares, caribou or musk oxen, introduced to Kangerlussuaq in the 1950s – containers after securing their transportation from Norway rust on the road side of the airport – 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 scrutinizes with his eyes: the sand. On this May day when the Sonde Strom is free from ice, an infinite tongue of sand stretches out to the sea, trampled only by migratory birds or some white fox.

Daniel Lennert Johnsen, educated in Denmark, has returned to settle in Greenland for the immensity of his 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 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, specialist in marine geology at the University of La Rochelle-CNRS. However, the polar regions are warming very quickly, so the melting of the glaciers 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 an unexpected effect in the polar regions by giving access to hitherto untapped resources. For them it is a bit like discovering the New World! “

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