Photographer Maria Sahai was raised in Southern Kazakhstan, where she grew to adopt a nomadic lifestyle, traveling and documenting her experiences all around the world, and leading photography tours for a living. She is most fascinated with the northern corners of the globe where the atmosphere is somewhat magical, somewhat eerie, but almost always freezing cold. An endless day during the summer, an endless night come winter.
Coast of the ice fjord
She's seen the Norweigan blizzard, the tough Icelandic winter, and the dark Polar Night of the northernmost settlement of earth (Longyearbyen), but in this article, we'll share her experiences in Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord, one of the most surreal landscapes of Scandinavia and home to the most studied glacier in history.
The town of Ilulissat and the fjord south of it are located on the west coast of Greenland, 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It's a tidal fjord covered by graceful floating ice, situated right where the Jakobshavn Glacier calves ice into the ocean. This glacier, called Sermeq Kujalleq in Greenlandic, has been studied scientifically for more than 250 years. The oldest ice in it is about 250,00 years old, which provides a window to the past in terms of climate.
The glacier is among the most active glaciers on earth! How is a glacier active, you ask? Well, it moves, of course. This glacier moves 130 feet a day. The geography of the land where the glacier drains creates a very narrow stream, resulting in Sermeq Kujalleq being one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world.
Its annual calving makes for 10% of the all Greenland calf ice and more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. But don't let that despair you- calving is indeed a natural process in all glaciers. Unnatural sped-up erosion of a glacier is called disintegration, and you can read more about the difference between the two here.
UNESCO provides some optimistic facts about the calving of the Sermeq Kujalleq: "Studies made over the last 250 years demonstrate that [...] today the ice cap is being maintained by an annual accumulation of snow that matches the loss through calving and melting at the margins."
In other words, whatever the glacier loses through calving in the summer, it regains through snowfall in the winter. You can see the calving in this mesmerizing video:
Summer midnight in Greenland
The only way to see the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier itself is with a scenic flight- you can't reach it on foot. But you can explore the downstream from afar and enjoy the frequent calving, as Sahai does: "I love coming there at around midnight, sitting down with a thermos full of hot coffee and listening to the icebergs calving while they are making their way into the ocean."
Ice-breaking off the glacier is usually very large and can reach up to 3,300 ft in height. These lumps are too tall to float down the stream. They just remain static in the shallow, sometimes even for years until they're broken down by natural wear.
1 AM summer night
Whales feeding in the fjord