Expedition Cruise to Disko Bay and Uummannaq
Greenland in a changing climate
Travelling by sea is still the best way to experience Greenland. The places most worth seeing are situated along the dramatic coast line: small and colourful houses situated on the steep mountains sides down to a fjord, giant glaciers producing enormous icebergs, whilst whales and seals play in the sea. And only a few minutes’ hike away you will find yourself totally isolated, surrounded by wilderness.
But global warming is changing Greenland’s arctic environment at an alarming rate. On this 8 days’ voyage to Disko Bay and Uummannaq, we follow the tracks of scientists and decision makers to see with our own eyes the retreating glaciers and gasp at the thought of losing them.
During our third day of the cruise, we visit the Danish Research Station on Disko Island. The research team will join us on the voyage and show us their work in the field. Professor Dr. Scient Bo Elberling will lead a series of scientific lectures and discussion on board to shed a light on one of the hottest topic of our time. The expedition concept means that we will utilize Zodiacs for beach landings and enjoy nature hikes to get close to receding glaciers.
We reach our northernmost point at the fabulous town of Uummannaq, before we un our south bound voyage make Zodiac landing at Eqip Sermia, a giant retreating glacier, and visit Ilulissat, Iceberg Capital of the World. Last visit is the small Inuit settlement of Sarfannguit. Back in Kangerlussuaq we disembark Ocean Atlantic and enjoy a bus tour to the Icecap before flying back to Keflavík and Iceland.
Unforgettable experiences await you in Greenland!
Iceland - Kangerlussuaq. Embarkation
Upon arrival from Keflavík in Iceland, we will be transported to the small port located west of the airport, where our ship, Ocean Atlantic, will be anchored. Zodiacs will transfer us the short distance to the ship, where you will be check in to you outside cabin. After the safety drill, you will enjoy a dinner as Ocean Atlantic ‘sets sail’ through the 160-kilometre Kangerlussuaq fjord
Sisimiut, Greenland's second-largest city
After breakfast, we arrive to the colourful town of Sisimiut, where we will get an idea of what modern Greenland looks like. With 5,400 inhabitants, it is considered Greenland’s second ‘city’. People have lived around Sisimiut on and off since 2,500 BC.
In 1756, Count Johan Ludvig Holstein, established a colony here and called it “Holsteinsborg”. The oldest part of Sisimiut’s historic quarter features town houses from this “Holsteinsborg” era, and the oldest house in town dates back to 1756. One of the most culturally significant buildings is the Blue Church, built in 1775.
Nowadays, Sisimiut is an important place for education and industry, and local factories process the bulk of Royal Greenland's fishing. The fish processing plant is one of the largest of its kind in Greenland, and one of the most modern in the world.
Our city tour highlights include the historic colonial quarter, as well as the museum and the beautiful church. Additionally, we will pay a visit to the busy city centre for a glimpse of what daily life is like in 21st century Greenland. In the afternoon, our voyage will continue northward.
As evening falls, we will pass the Sisimiut Isortuat Fjord, the Nordre Strømfjord settlements of Attu and Ikerasaarsuk, and the small town of Kangaatsiaq. During the course of the bright night, we will pass Aasiaat and proceed into the southern waters of Disko Bay. Next, the ship’s heading will be set for Disko Island, known for its distinctive 1,000-meter/3,280 feet layered crags.
At this point, we will be north of the Arctic Circle! Here, the nights are bright and early risers can enjoy the sight of the icebergs on Disko Bay as they squeeze out of the Ilulissat Icefjord and dance into the frigid ocean waters.
Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island, 'kaffemik' in a community centre and Eqip Sermia Glacier
Our next sojourn lies on the southern tip of the Disko Island, where Ocean Atlantic will dock in a protected natural harbour, which is named Godhavn (‘Good Harbour’) in Danish, while its Greenlandic name, Qeqertarsuaq, means ‘The Big Island’.
Although topographically quite different from mainland Greenland due to the basalt characteristics of the Disko Island’s mountains, Qeqertarsuaq maintains a long, rich history and once served as one of the country’s important economic centers. From the 16th century, the community was relatively prosperous and, in fact, considered the most important town north of Nuuk until the mid-1900s, due in part to the area’s sizeable whale hunting population.
During our visit, we will wander through town, paying a visit to the characteristic octagonal church, nicknamed “God’s Inkpot”, as well as to a local community center that will be hosting a traditional Greenlandic “kaffemik”, which can be best described as a friendly gathering with coffee, cake and traditional dances and music.
Musicians from Greenland originally played on a drum (qilaat) made from an oval wooden frame covered with the bladder of a polar bear. Unlike other drums, the qilaat was played by hitting the frame with a stick, not the skin itself. This modest instrument was used for a variety of purposes, including entertainment, exorcism and witchcraft.
After the missionaries arrived, drum dancing was prohibited and later replaced by part-singing of psalms and choral works, which today are renowned for their particular Greenlandic sound. Today, drum dance is used as entertainment in cultural events and on festive occasions.
Greenlandic music is inspired and influenced by music from other cultures, like the Danish and Innuit cultures, and more specifically, Dutch and Scottish polka, American country and rock ‘n’ roll and even Hawaiian music, which inspired the so-called Vaigat-musicians in Greenland in the 1950s and 60s.
As the day draws to a closing, Ocean Atlantic will set a northeasterly course bound for a magnificent natural highlight – the enormous Eqip Sermia Glacier.
Situated approximately 50 nautical miles north of Ilulissat, the Eqip Sermia Glacier is renowned for its jaw-dropping beauty. Legendary arctic explorers selected this location as a base for their studies. One such explorer, the acclaimed Swiss glaciologist, Alfred de Quervain, used the location as a base for his expeditions onto Greenland’s inland ice sheet over a century ago.
We will sail as close as possible to the ice’s edge – but at a safe distance to avoid plunging blocks of ice and violent waves that often result from the calving glacier.
Ilulissat, Capital of the Icebergs
Ilulissat is possibly the most well located town in Greenland. The name simply means ‘icebergs’ in Greenlandic, and the town’s nickname is rightly ‘the Iceberg Capital’.
In Disko Bay, which is located just off the coast of Ilulissat, gigantic icebergs linger in the freezing waters. These icebergs come from the Icefjord, which is located a half hour’s hike south of Ilulissat. These impressive frozen structures are born some 70km/43,5 miles deeper into the fjord by the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. This 10km/6 miles-wide glacier is the most productive glacier outside of Antarctica; Whereas most glaciers only calve at a rate of approximately a metre/three feet a day, the Ilulissat glacier calves at a rate of 25m/82 feet per day. The icebergs produced by the glacier represent more than 10% of all icebergs in Greenland, corresponding to 20 million tonnes/22 million us tons of ice per day!
These facts, together with the fjord’s unforgettable scenery, have secured the Icefjord a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
During the more than 250 years that have passed since the establishment of Ilulissat, the town has steadily flourished. Today, Ilulissat is Greenland’s third largest town, with more than 4,500 inhabitants. The town is very vibrant, welcoming and lively with a wide range of cultural attractions, according to Greenlandic standards.
The legendary polar explorer, Knud Rasmussen, and his good friend, Jørgen Brønlund, were both born in Ilulissat.
On this day, you will also have the opportunity to join a boat trip to the Icefjord (not included). The journey takes about two and a half hours in total, a great opportunity to take a closer look at the amazing ice-sculpted scenery.
The trip is definitely something out of the ordinary and a great natural experience that you will remember for years to come – but be sure to have warm clothing on!
If a hike or a trip by boat does not present enough excitement, there is also an opportunity to arrange a helicopter ride over the Icefjord (not included).
Please note the boat and helicopter excursions to the Icefjord are not included in the general tour price. Furthermore, the helicopter excursion must be booked in advance. Refer to Price Information for more details.
In the evening, we will cruise southward from “the Iceberg Capital”, leaving lovely Disko Bay behind us as we part.
A visit to Itilleq
In the morning, we will wake up to a picturesque sight — the settlement of Itilleq, which translates to ‘the hollow’ or ‘the flatlands’, quite an appropriate name for a settlement nestled at the foothills of mountains and glaciers in the distant backcountry to the east. The settlement’s slightly more than 100 residents live off hunting, trapping and fishing, most often in pursuit of arctic char, reindeer and musk oxen.
Although Itilleq is quite remote, it lies within a few hours via dinghy sail from Sisimiut, the second-largest town in Greenland. The accessibility to such a large town provides an indispensable economic benefit to a small community like Itilleq’s.
A stroll through the settlement offers insight into rural life in today’s Greenland, where modern conveniences and technological advancements, such as internet and smart phones have become commonplace, yet locals still place great value on important customs and preserving their traditions and Inuit heritage.
Before lunch, we will return to Ocean Atlantic and continue our journey toward the fjord of Kangerlussuaq, also known as Sondrestromfjord. Especially the first part of the fjord gives a great opportunity to enjoy an impressive passage with panoramic views of high mountains and deep valleys.
Kangerlussuaq. Air to Iceland
During the night, we will have completed our passage through the 160-kilometer/100 mile Kangerlussuaq Fjord. After breakfast aboard the ship, we will bid farewell to the ship's staff and the Zodiac boats will shuttle us to shore.
Due to Kangerlussuaq’s military history and present-day role as an important air travel hub, Kangerlussuaq remains fairly isolated from Greenland’s rich cultural traditions, in comparison to other regions. While you still find cultural experiences when visiting Kangerlussuaq, the most impressive attraction is the surrounding nature, which is just beckoning to be explored.
It is not difficult for one to see that Kangerlussuaq’s landscape has largely been shaped by the last glaciation period, often known simply as the “Ice Age,” some 18,000 years ago. The mountains are rounded and soft, and many meltwater lakes remain. From the inland ice sheet, best known as the Greenland Ice Sheet, the meltwater cuts its way through the porous moraine landscape and flows into Kangerlussuaq Fjord.
Kangerlussuaq’s present-day climate is largely influenced by its well-sheltered location between Greenland’s Ice Sheet, the fjord and mountains. This contributes to its stable conditions, minimal cloud cover and roughly 300 clear nights per year.
This close proximity to the Ice Sheet, combined with the continental climate, is also of great significance to the local conditions. The dry climate, combined with warm winds that “fall” from the Ice Sheet, can result in temperatures that jump up to 30°C (86°F) in the summer, but then fall to an extreme -40°C (-40°F) in winter, making it the coldest inhabited area in Greenland.
In Kangerlussuaq we offer an optional excursion to the beautiful Reindeer Glacier. The duration of the excursion is about four hours.
Please note the excursion is not included in the general tour price. Refer to Price Information for more details. We do not recommend the excursion for people who suffer from bad necks or backs, as the gravel road to the ice sheet is occasionally bumpy and uneven.
As our time in Greenland concludes, after breakfast and checkout, your arctic adventure will have concluded. We hope to see you again soon! We fly from Kangerlussuaq to Reykjavík.
- English-speaking guides
- Flights Reykjavik – Kangerlussuaq round trip
- Local transport in Kangerlussuaq on day 1
- City tours in Sisimiut, Qeqertarsuaq,and Ilulissat
- Museum visits in Sisimiut, Qeqertarsuaq and Ilulissat
- Church visits in Qeqertarsuaq and Ilulissat
- 'Kaffemik' visit in Qeqertarsuaq
- Briefings and talks by tour leaders
- 5-day cruise in a shared outside double suite with bathroom/toilet
- Full board on the ship
- Coffee, tea and water on the ship
- Taxes and tariffs
- Lectures by renowned experts and expedition team
- Digital visual journal, gallery and voyage log after voyage
- Extra optional excursions
- Single room supplement and cabin upgrades
- Meals not on board ship
- Beverages other than coffee, tea and water
- Tips for ship crew (approx. 13.5 USD per day per participant)
- Personal expenses
Climate Conversations in Greenland - Aug 24 2020
On August 24, 2020 we are happy to add an extra dimension to Albatros’ expedition cruise to Disko Bay and Ummannaq, as we visit the Danish research station in the island, after which the research team will join us to share their work on the field and tell us about their scientific background and experience registering climate change. This voyage combines a traditional expedition to Greenland with all the major sights in and around Disko Bay, with visit to some very special locations where research work currently takes place. The lecture series onboard the ship are directed by professor Bo Eberling, who will adapt the lecture program to the schedule so that the researchers have opportunity to answer questions and partake in discussions of the time's warmest subject. This is a comfortable voyage onboard a spacious vessel, where most landings will be done via Zodiacs, the only way to reach land from our vessel due to the locations we will be visiting. Some hiking is to be expected in both Disko Bay and other locations. However, there's always the opportunity to take shortened hikes instead. When booking this voyage please keep in mind this is not a traditional cruise trip and the focus will be on educational entertainment and admiring nature. Of course, although we emphasize the major locations, such as Ilulissat's Icefjord and Uummannak, we will also fully prioritize the experience, which is why the program will be adapted along the way, taking into account the weather and availability of individual sites.
Prof. Bo Elberling is a soil scientist working at the University of Copenhagen. Bo will share his interest and knowledge on climate change, greenhouse gasses, soil formation and nutrient turnover.
Dr. Elise Biersma, an evolutionary biologist working at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. Elise will share her interest and knowledge on biogeography, evolutionary history and ecology of polar organisms.