Weatherwatch: Snowburn in the frozen fjord

Tim Radford Ice wall in Greenland reflects blue and green on a glorious wind-free day

The British army officer and Arctic explorer Frederick Spencer Chapman was in Greenland on 28 March 1933. “Face very sore today. I always suffer more from sun and snowburn than from frostbite. Glorious day, 11°F, no wind and burning hot. We all set off towards the glacier at the head of the fjord,” he wrote.

He told his story in Watkins’ Last Expedition (1934), in which the leader of the Greenland expedition, Gino Watkins, disappeared in 1932 while in his kayak. “High cirrus clouds dapple the intensely blue sky above the main glacier of Kangerdlugsuatsiak [in east Greenland]. This great river of ice is several miles wide where it meets the fjord in a chaotic vertical wall a hundred feet high, reflecting all imaginable shades of blue and green. The glacier winds its way mysteriously into the hills with many tributary glaciers joining it.

“If we can only get up the first bit the rest should go fairly easily. The sun has thawed the crust in places, so the dogs sink in a bit, but the going is still pretty good. While still a mile from the ice wall we meet a high pressure ridge running right across the fjord. The glacier flows all winter and masses of ice continually break from the terminal wall as in summer. Since the fjord is frozen, the debris cannot get away, so its accumulation pushes back the sea ice, making a few hundred yards of the most impossible going I have ever encountered.”

His frostbitten toes were insensitive. There was even worse news. “Very bad toothache today – an exposed nerve which reacts violently to heat or cold. Face peeling too, so am none too happy.”


Tim Radford

The GuardianTramp

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