In May ministers from the 5 arctic countries surrounding the Northpole met in Ilulissat, Greenland to try to reach agreement on the process needed to determine rights for exploration as well as rights for sailing in the arctic area; as a consequnce of the global warming, it is now evident that explorations for oil and natural resources would be only a matter of few years away, and as the polar cap ice cover will retreat, new lines for freighters and cruising vessels would open up for more traffic. Both activities are bound to have a huge impact on the very fragile environment in the Arctic. (See http://benmuse.typepad.com/arctic_economics/2008/05/representatives-of-the-five-arctic-countries-russia-the-us-canada-denmark-and-norway-meet-tomorrow-at-ilullissat-on-greenlands-baffin-sea-coast-to-discuss-their-territorial-claims-arctic-powers-hold-summit-in-greenlandafp-may-27.html )
The choice of Ilulissat for this conference is not a coincidence: The glacier at Ilulissat Icefjord is the most productive glacier on the Northern Himesphere producing more than 20.000 million liters of water pr. day corresponding to the City of New York's water consumption in a year.
It is a part of the World Heritage and Denmark/Greenland's 4th landmark on this prestigeous list. http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=1149
The glacier is running faster and faster - from 20 kilometres pr. year a few years ago to now 40 km/year.
The meeting ended on a positive note, in spite of the fact that US never ratified the UN 1982 Sea Convention, Canada, Russia, Norway, US and denmark/Greenland agreed to use this as a foundation for defining rights of traffic and exploration in the future.
As part of my trip to participate in the IT Council Meeting in Sisimiut on June 11-12th, we first visited Ilulissat, located 250 km. north of the Polar circle. A beautiful city on the brink of the Disco Bay. It is the 3rd largest city in Greenland, but with it's 3.500+ inhabitants, the humans are outnumbered by the sledge dogs. These huge dogs are out of work during the summer period, and they spend the time breeding and changing their fur.
The noice these dogs are capable of producing is unbeleiveable, so they are located just outside of the city - but for vistors probably not far enough. They are definitely NOT pets - each year tourists and children are attacked by these half-wild animals. In this case the procedure is that they are shot immediately. In winter time it is a real tourist pearl to sit on top of a Dogsledge - typically 2-3 meters long and drawn by 8-10 dogs. The leader dog is almost always an old female. A young male dog is tied directly behind her to ensure protection from the old 'rouges'. The strongest and biggest males are tied closest to the sledge beside each other to compete. The first hour or so should be awful sitting on the sledge; only by that time the air has left the dogs' stomachs and then the air feels a lot better !
During our stay in Ilulissat we took a boat to Rodebay, a small village with 50 inhabitants an hours sailing up the Disco Bay. This place - The Red Bay - was originally used by the Dutch whalers, who in 1600 and beginning of 1700 used the bay for extracting the whale oil, by then a very precious thing as it was lightning the houses of Europe. As Denmark started to exploit Greenland, at that time and until May 1. 1979 where the new law on Homerule for Greenland was accepted, a genuine colony with a mixture of nice preachers and rough merchants. One of these, Jacob Severin, manned his vessels, took 5 dutch ships as prison and created the alternative whaling spot Jacobshavn, now adays Ilulissat, in 1741.
Ilulissat has 3 hotels and a youth hostel and is a marvelleous starting point for Arctic ventures. Because of the reputation, the city is now hosting more than 20.000 tourists a year and it is beginning to take it's toll on the route along the Icefjord. (Seee the upper picture). The area holds old graves from the original pre-escimo people, the Saqqaq culture, believed to come from Sibiria. The current population comes from the Aleutian Islands and arrived only around year 800, aproximately at the same time as the Nordic Vikings reached the southern tip of Greenland sailing from Iceland.
Ilulissat does not any longer rely on whaling; A quota of whales are each year allocated to Greenland, but the main catch is shrimps and fish. Because of the content of oxygen in the large icebergs that are melting in the Disco Bay and outside the Icefjord, this gives life to plankton and hence create a very rich environment for a lot of fish - and seals - to thrive. But the global warming is also chaning the pattern of fishing: Some years ago the cod declined sharply, and now the shrimps are declining. This is a potential threat to the economy of the Greenland fishing industry. But more about alternatives in the next blog.
We left Ilulissat on a sunday evening sailing through the sunny polar night to Sisimiut. The traffic between the cities on the east coast relies mainly on this line, the Umiaq line, and the passenger ship arrives twice a week to the towns from Narsaqq in South to Ilulissat in the north.
Also Greenland Air is an important means of transporation, relying mainly on their fleet of Dash 7 - 4 engined monoplans with a very robust landing gear (compared to 'crash 8' )