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Beautiful icebergs and a history lesson

Qeqertarsuaq is a settlement of 800 people on the southern tip of Disko Island. The church, Lutheran like most of inhabited Greenland, sits at the highest point in the village and the houses are scattered on the hillsides mostly on individual plots.

Many are brightly painted using every colour in the spectrum, contrasting with the magnificent barrenness of much of the landscape. The cemetery makes the brightest splash of colour with the graves heaped with dayglow artificial flowers. Christian missionaries from Denmark started coming to Greenland in the early 18th century and eventually displaced the shamanistic religion practiced by the inhabitants, paving the way for the establishment of Greenland as a Danish colony. Self-rule was granted in 1979 and soon there is to be a vote on independence.

Ludwig Hammeken, who is studying marketing management in Copenhagen, has joined the crew as our second Inuit guide and with Karen makes a presentation on Greenland's history and culture. Though a nationalist he does not think Greenland is viable as a separate state, with its population of just 56,000 and no trading relations with countries other than Denmark.

Mojisola Adebayo (one of whose works is called Moj of the Antarctic) raises parallels with the colonial experience round the world and the way it has left many populations unconfident in their abilities to find their own answers to the problems of development. 'Climate Tourism' is a growing industry in Greenland and there is an impressive and growing list of international dignitaries who come to see the front line of climate change for themselves. Their own contribution to global warming would be justified only if it brought about a real change, and things are not looking too good on that front.

The sighting of two whales (humpback or snow whales?) turns the whole party into excited squealing kinds. Karen, who is from Illulisat, says that if you want to see climate change in Greenland look for the humpback whales, which never used to come to the cold waters around Illulisat, remaining at the southern end of Greenland.

But it is also true that there are more humpback whales now, their stocks recovering after being hunted almost to extinction from the 18th to the 20th century. Another sign of warming is the strange phenomenon of rain in the winter months.

The most wondrous things so far are the icebergs, the first of which appeared, looming large as a cathedral in the far distance in Saturday evening's fading light. They, especially when the ship is in an iceberg field, create extraordinary light effects: now glowing blue from within, now catching the pale orange of the sun, then becoming a ghostly, scaleless presence. I can see why people have so often talked of the arctic light. 'Arctic Dreams' by Barry Lopez, given to me for reading on this voyage by Penoyre & Prasad's sustainability leader Ian Goodfellow, has a whole chapter called Ice and Light.

The project I initially envisaged is definitely not going to be feasible. The plan was: two or three helium balloons would be placed on a glacier with battery-powered electro-luminescent wire attached to the nylon tether line. Another similar rig would be placed on land.
Time interval photographs would be taken in the twilight from a more landward point of the approximately vertical lines made by the glowing wires. The resulting images, hopefully graphically strong in themselves, would be a record of the movement of the glacier relative to the land.

The story would pivot on the coincidence that the Illulisat glacier is moving at a rate which of the same order as the pole-ward migration of the word's isotherms, which is why Marseille's climate today will be London's in mid-Century.

The trouble is that a) the current front of the Illulisat Glacier is 50km from Disko Bay where we are and b) it is probably too dangerous to get onto the glacier. As it happens the glacier front has retreated 25 miles in the last 15 years or so.

The original idea may be unfeasible but Chris Wainwright, who specialises in photography at night wants to collaborate to create a project or two using the kit he and I have brought.

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