It is summer time in Kangerlussuaq and that means that during the day the temperature is now above freezing. It is melt season which naturally occurs every summer with the changing of the season. As the temperature increases, the ice will melt and what was once all white quickly turns to brown. The areas that were once low lying and snow-covered are becoming lakes and rivers. As the ice and snow melts, it flows down the path of least resistance only to freeze again when winter comes. Today I experienced this first hand as I returned to Russell Glacier.
Russell Glacier at the start of melt season. This picture was taken about a quarter mile from the terminus.
I was there exactly one week ago, and as we drove down the road to the glacier, it looked extremely different. The road itself was hard to traverse due to the ice melting, and the road becoming muddy and filled with huge puddles. Just from the four hours we were there we could see a change in the road. Driving to the glacier was much easier and drier than driving back. As the sun beat down on the road, the path became wetter, muddier, and more fun. In some areas we could go fast and splash through the puddles spraying water over the windows and sometimes into the car if we were not quick enough. The truck has windows that one has to roll up, and if not paying attention we would get wet. Driving was like being on a roller coaster ride. The road itself was wider in some parts but it also had grooves made by the truck's tires as they drove down the road. On the way back these grooves filled with water. To drive down this road a vehicle has to be equipped with four wheel drive. I could not imagine going down these roads in anything but a truck or SUV.
Road to Russell Glacier at the start of the melt season. The road is starting to melt and will soon be impassible and too wet to drive on.
Just like the road, the mountainside is changing from white to brown. The glacier that we went to last week has changed greatly. Last time we went to the glacier we crossed over a frozen river. That was impossible this time, the ice would not have held the weight of the car. We walked over grass, shrubs, and dirt where last time there was ice and snow. We could not get as close to the glacier as I would have liked because it has melted. The glacier is unstable and as we watched, chunks of snow and ice fell off. The sound of the glacier was different this time too. There were still the sounds of cracking and popping as before, but louder than any other sound was the rush of water as a river was forming from the melt water. The glacier has receded because of the melt and we could see where the ice has fallen off the glacier and landed in front. The glacier itself is darker in color, what was once blue and white is now brown with dirt. As the glacier moves it is an amazing eroder, tearing up the earth below it and moving sediment and rocks along as it moves. As the glacier melts the rocks and sediments are left behind. We could see the dirt in the snow that made up the glacier.
This picture of the glacier was taken on April 23.
This picture of the glacier was taken on April 30.
I am amazed by the changes that have occurred in the span of a week. Growing up in Philadelphia I am used to seasonal changes, but seeing it here makes it seem even more dramatic. I don't know why it was so shocking to see the change from a frozen white landscape to one that is brown and starting to grow. Greenland will never be truly green, but the plants are starting to grow. There were more animals on this trip than the last one. We saw arctic hares and reindeer – on our last trip we saw no animals. I want to come back when winter starts to see everything turn white again.
In a few more weeks this area will be a lake and no one will be able to use this path to get up to the glacier. This was taken at the beginning of melt season.