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Scoresby Sund: a Greenland adventure of immense proportions

by Jon Lapidese Blog

Would you like to discover a world of towering ice spires, magnificent glaciers and breathtaking fjords? There is such an adventure for you in Eastern Greenland. Few places can make the claim to be the biggest, the grandest or the most inspiring but Scoresby Sund (or Sound) is one of those remarkable locations.
Antarctic Peninsula

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Greenland

Highlights: Scoresby Sund

Scoresby Sund: a Greenland adventure of immense proportions

Would you like to discover a world of towering ice spires, magnificent glaciers and breathtaking fjords? There is such an adventure for you in Eastern Greenland. Few places can make the claim to be the biggest, the grandest or the most inspiring but Scoresby Sund (or Sound) is one of those remarkable locations.

Scoresby Sund is the largest fjord system in the world. The winding extension of the Greenland Sea stretches 110 km or 68 miles into the eastern coast of Greenland. The tree-like structure of the Sund then branches into a massive system of fjords, the longest of which is 350 km (216 miles) from the coast.

Along this route, majestic peaks will greet you, rising thousands of meters from the sea. Taking in the horizon you will see infinite rows of icebergs, carved into impossible geometric shapes by the wind and water. Plus, you will be surrounded by massive glaciers in all directions.

Scoresby Sund is an adventure of immense proportions, everywhere your eyes take you. The effect is like sailing into a vast blue and white mural where you are the center. This must have been how English explorer William Scoresby felt when he first sailed into the Sund to chart its magnificent structure in 1822. In all, Scoresby noted some 400 miles of the eastern Greenland coast.

What is a Fjord… Anyway?

As noted, Scoresby Sund is the most extensive fjord system on earth, but just what is a fjord and how is it formed? There is no question, fjords are dramatic, perhaps some of the most startling landscapes on the planet. Sailing through a fjord, you find yourself in a narrow inlet, dwarfed by towering walls.

The word “fjord” comes from the Norse "fjörðr", which means “where you travel across” or “put across to the other side”. Other English derivatives are “fare” and “ferry”. These words are appropriate to the feeling one gets traveling in a spectacular fjord – to want to keep moving and see more of these remarkable formations.

A geological feature as immense and dramatic as a fjord can only be formed by something equally imposing. A giant glacier descending from a mountain cuts a deep U-shaped valley over thousands of years. When the glacier finally retreats, it leaves a steep, narrow trench. As seawater comes in and fills the carved trench, a fjord is born.

Ø Fjord in Scoresby Sund is one of the most majestic. It boasts 2000 meter (6,000 ft) mountains on either side and is in places more than 1000 meters (3000 ft) deep. This long, narrow fjord is dotted throughout with massive icebergs.

The Wildlife of Scoresby Sund

A region this rich in natural beauty is not without abundant and equally fascinating wildlife.  Sailing past rolling hills, you can spot herds of musk oxen grazing. Other animals include the Arctic fox, the Arctic hare and lemming.

The Sund is populated with Arctic Char, Greenland halibut, polar cod, cuttlefish, sea scorpion and Greenland shark. Feeding on the fish you may spot different varieties of seal, whales and when you’re extremely lucky even narwhal (very rare though).

Climate

Make no mistake, the climate here is Arctic with severe storms in the winter. Temperatures can plummet to -22 degree Celcius (-10 F).  However in the more temperate autumn months – when Oceanwide cruises in Greenland - you can expect temperatures to be more comfortable, in the area of about 5 degree Celcius (41 F). 

The Thule Culture

There are several ancient settlements located in Scoresby Sund.  Danmark Ø near the southwest of Hall Bredning, the main body of water in the Sund, and Sydkap, Scoresby Land, at the northern most point of Hall Bredning are two such examples. These area has benefitted from milder weather. Perhaps that is why you can spot remains here of both contemporary huts and early Thule settlements. The Thule were the ancestors of the today’s native Greenlanders, or Inuit. They reached this area of Greenland around the 1300’s.

Ittoqqortoormiit

Near the mouth of Scoresby Sund is Ittoqqortoormiit, one of the most recent and yet remote towns in Greenland. Founded in 1925, the town was settled by about 80 native Greenlanders and today has a population closer to 400. However, this populace could not have been the first to inhabit this area as evidenced by the ruins and artifacts of ancient Inuit in the region.

These newer settlers were hunters and as the area is abundant with seals, walruses, narwhals, polar bears and Arctic foxes, they soon created a flourishing life for themselves. This hunting culture has lasted for generations and continues even today. Not only does the hunting of these animals provide sustenance for the local population but it is also the means for trade and income.

Fishing the Sund also brings food to the table, though the sea is frozen much of the time. In fact, this sea ice prevents access to outside ships for about nine months of the year. Winters here, can be harsh and even the summers are chilly. The warmest monthly temperature here is only 3 °C (37 F). 

One advantage of the frozen sea ice is that it becomes a pathway to new routes throughout the area. The locals even go dogsledding or take snowmobiles for weekend camping trips.

Come autumn, when the sea ice has thawed, expeditionary ships enter the Sund and bring opportunities for tourists to explore the nature, wildlife and beauty of the region.

At Ittoqqortoormiit, tourists can immerse themselves in the local culture. They can get up close to the sledge dogs (please keep your distance, sledge dogs are not pets) and observe how the locals dry and prepare the animal skins from their hunts. There is even a post office where one can buy stamps and get postmarks on one’s letters from this very remote location.  

Plan a Trip to Scoresby Sund

For those wishing an adventure well off the beaten path, Scoresby Sund would be a fascinating addition to any bucket list. This is a remote part of the world few ever get to see. But for those daring enough to try something different they will be rewarded with unforgettable views of magnificent fjords, innumerable icebergs, towering cliffs and nighttime viewing of the Northern Lights. The land and sea wildlife is abundant so be prepared to sight birds, whales, seals, musk oxen and more. A trip to Scoresby Sund is like sailing to a time when the earth was untouched, pristine and beautiful.

Click here for an overview of Oceanwide’s Scoresby Sund cruises.

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