Ice Cap Divers
Hanging by a rope 173 meters
into the Greenland Ice Cap

Every spring, melt water flows in torrents from the Ice Cap into the cold ocean. During the 1980's and 1990's the French mountaineers and potholers, Janot and Janine Lamberton, returned almost every year to Greenland to investigate this phenomenon.

Air Greenland sponsored the couple and flew them out to the Ice Cap, 40 kilometres from its rim north-east of Kangerlussuaq.

The torrents of melt water pouring with tremendous force towards the glaciers dig deeply into them, creating impressive glacier wells. Some of these deep wells air several hundred metres deep and are slippery with ice.

Determined to find the answers as to how the rivers of melt water find their way from out under the Ice Cap to the ocean, scientists defied death and lowered themselves down into the crevasses with a rope as their only lifeline to the surface.


Biologists and other scientists who study glaciology and wildlife in and on the Ice Cap are also interested in the crevasses.

The Danish biologist, Anette Grønnegaard, was a member of an expedition in August 1996. At one point she was lowered down into a 173 metre deep crevasse. The opening of the crevasse is approximately 10 metres in diameter and its widest area is 40 x 40 metres.


At the bottom of the shaft, the ground water can be found and the torrent of melt water disappears from view into what looks like a gigantic sink whose plug has been pulled halfway out.

"Being scared of heights is not an option if one wants to participate in expeditions of this kind. However, the incredible, unique beauty of the ice in all its shapes and forms is greatly rewarding", says Anette Grønnegaard.

About the Ice Cap

The Greenland Ice Cap is approx. 1.8 million in size. It is almost 14 times the size of England. At its thickest points, the ice has a depht of more than 3 km to the bedrock. The bottom layers of the ice are up to 2 million years old.

For millions of years, the weight of the Ice Cap has pressed the original bedrock down about 800 meters.

Icebergs snap off glaciers at the edge of the Ice Cap. The world's most active glacier - at Ilulissat - moves 25-30 meters a day and calves across a front 10 kilometers in width. Icebergs with more than 100 meters above the water line are often seen in Ilulissat - and only one tenth of the iceberg shows above the surface.

The Ice Cap was first crossed in 1888 by Norwegian Fridjof Nansen. The trip was done on skis. Today, the ice is crossed several times a year; as a rule, from the area around Ammassalik to Kangerlussuaq.

2006 had more than 50 non-scientific expeditions to the Ice Cap. Among them were groups of skiers who paraglided from the center of the Ice Cap to Kangerlussuaq and a who river-rafted on the meltwater torrents.

For more information about crossing the Greenland ice cap please visit this page by Visit Greenland. Among the requirements are superior physical shape, expedition experience, appropriate equipment and insurances to cover search and rescue parties.

The story about the French mountaineers and potholers first appeared in Air Greenland inflight magazine Suluk. All photos copyright Jean Philippe Astruc/Janot Lamberton and Greenland Tourism.

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