When we think about Greenland, for many of us one of the first things that comes to mind is ice. Rightfully so! Greenland is about three-times the size of Texas and roughly 79% of the islands surface is covered by the Greenlandic Ice sheet. Covering an area of 1,71 million square kilometres (656,000 square miles) it is the largest ice mass in the Northern Hemisphere and the second largest one on our planet, only topped in it’s size by the Antarctic ice sheet.
Like a super slow-moving river, ice from that ice cap moves under its own weight and due to gravity and makes its way down into valleys, where some of these so called outlet glaciers become relatively easy for us to access and step foot onto.
Walking on ice that formed hundreds of thousand years ago, exploring its countless features, checking out deep crevasses and maybe even trying some ice climbing is a unique and incredible experience. Standing on top of these witnesses of our past also makes you wonder what’s going on beneath you.
ICE CAVES: PATHWAY TO THE INSIDE OF A GLACIER
One way to give us an idea and a glimpse of what’s going on underneath a glacier is by looking at the ice from inside an ice cave.
Ice caves, like the one we visit on our Ice cave tour, form by meltwater that is collecting on the surface of the glacier. The meltwater looks for weaknesses in the ice, drilling its way down towards the bottom and by doing that creating a huge tunnel system. The holes and tunnels
created in this process are called moulins and they work as a kind of plumbing system, transporting the meltwater down and out of the glacier. Sometimes the beginning or end of these tunnels can be found at the front of a glacier, making it possible for us to just walk right into these natural wonders.
Not every cave you come across on a glacier is safe though, it takes a good amount of luck to find one that is stable enough to enter. And even after finding one that meets all the requirements to be able to share its beauty with people, constant surveillance regarding safety hazards is necessary. After all, glaciers are on a constant move, changing every day and thereby also affecting the stability of caves.
In august 2016 we got lucky and discovered one of the most stunning ice caves we have ever come across!
Hidden on a small island, only accessible by a short boat ride from Kulusuk, we were the first people to set foot into what we decided to call the Blue Whale cave.
Since then, we are the first and only tour operator in East Greenland to offer the unique experience of visiting an ice cave, sharing the caves mesmerizing colours, shapes and stories with people from all over the world.
WHERE DOES THE BLUE COLOUR COME FROM?
Stepping foot into this ice cave and seeing the crystal clear turquoise ice for the first time is a memory that will last a life time.
Realizing that you are standing in a hole of ice, with thousands of tons of ice on top of you and around 200 more metres of ice underneath your feet is a feeling that is hard to put into words. Looking at all the different shapes and shades of the blue roof and the walls around you can be hypnotic and feeling the smooth surface of the ice under your fingertips almost becomes addictive.
The astonishing shades of blue we are looking at exist because of the density of glacial ice.
Glacier Ice forms high up on ice caps, where it snows. As more and more snow falls and layers up, the weight and pressure that builds up causes it to compress. The pressure of this compression squeezes out any air bubbles. This lack of air and the immense density of the ice absorbs every colour of the spectrum that has long wavelengthsred. Left are only the short wavelengths of blue light, that get scattered inside the crystalline structures of the ice and give it it’s blue colour!
Ice caves are not only admirable because of their colours and shapes, but also because of the stories they tell us. There is a lot we can learn about our planet and its history by taking a closer look at glacial ice.
Looking at the details of the crystal clear ice all around you in the Blue Whale cave, you will for example notice air bubbles in it.
These air bubbles are tiny bubbles of gas from the air that gets trapped in the ice while it forms on the ice cap. Each one of these air bubbles is a moment in time, almost like a tiny time capsule, literally caught in ice. And because the ice around you formed thousands of years ago, it means that these little air bubbles and the information they hold is just about as o