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Successful landing

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Perdlerfiup Kangerdlua is a remote fjord at about 710 North and two glaciers discharge into its Y shaped end.

The smaller of the two has retreated about 2 kilometres recently leaving a beach with a shallow foreshore. The larger still maintains a 100 metres high 3km wide calving face to the water, beyond which we can see the land based part of the glacier perhaps 500 metes above the fjord. It’s an amazing sight but always at the back of the mind is the possibility that the glacier may calve any second, sending out a very dangerous tsunami. Such an event left 20 people injured on one of the sister ships of the Grigory Mikheev last year and we maintain a respectful distance staying at right angles to the face as far as possible.

The scientists want to measure the salinity and temperate at various points in the fjord, which data will help track advancing climate change. I join them in a zodiac with Quentin Cooper who is making a BBC Radio 4 documentary about the expedition. The readings appear to be anomalous but might be explained by the cycle of calvings, which reduces salinity because glacier melt-water is fresh. While Dr Simon Boxall and Emily of the National Oceanography Centre are taking readings as near the glacier as they judge to be prudent, we hear a loud crack and the work is quickly completed. But there is no calving.

The ship moves and anchors near the smaller glacier and at last there is the chance to make a landing and create the installation with the balloons. However there is a wind of around force 4 caused by the down draught of cold air from the glacier – a catabatic wind. Chris Wainwright and I reconnoitre the beach and fortunately the shape of the enclosing hills has made a sheltered area to the south where we can make a wet landing with the helium cylinders, helpers Jonathan Dove, Simon Boxall and Nathan Gallagher, Peter Glibert and his camera crew and the balloons.

Chris and I ready the kit, attaching the tether lines and the electro luminescent wire to the balloons and the ballast bags that will hold them down filed with large pebbles from the bitch. All goes to plan, we make the landing set up the balloons…. But the wind has changed and at times it forces the balloons to actually bounce on the ground. It is also extremely cold. We have to lower the balloons to stop damage and accidental release. Luckily there is a lull from time to time and during one of these we manage to get the four balloons in position exactly as planned holding a 540m3 imaginary cube between them the volume of 1 tonnes of CO2. Everyone is insanely excited.

The pink spheres and the little steep pink pyramids of the ballast bags make a surreal contrast with the jagged ice and rock creating a beautiful installation, even without its message. There is plenty of material to convey the intention of the piece – a tonne of CO2, the amount each one of us on the UK emits on average on one month, visualised in front of a glacier retreating because of greenhouse gas emissions. Then the wind really whips up and it’s difficult to hold the balloons. I have to abandon the aim of returning at night to switch on the electro-luminescent wires and recording tree shapes made by the swaying tethers. We quickly pack up but led by Nathan can’t resist the temptation of inhaling some of the balloon helium and making irreverent climate change statement in pixy voices.

Back on the ship for a late but still hot meal from the excellent chef. Nathan downloads his images and the camera crew is pretty cock a hoop. Out on the icy covered deck minus 12-14 with the wind chill. The aurora borealis shimmering again in the starry sky. Music in the bar.

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