On Sea Ice with a Kayak and Walking

Gail Ferris


Here in Connecticut I have devised a method for launching my kayak over the sea ice.  I place my kayak facing backward, toward shore, get into my kayak and use an onion hoe to pull myself backward out over the ice.  This ice is only an inch thick mostly of freshwater.

Sea Ice is not as brittle as freshwater ice it can be like jello depending on where it forms and how saline the source water is.

I found that by trying to go forward with this method the chunks of ice I dislodged would just build up under the bow making progress impossible.



Below is a photo showing frazzle ice just forming on the surface flowing on the outgoing tide in Northeast Greenland King Oscar Fjord at the very end of August.


This photo is from Kullorsuaq showing a thin skim of frazzle ice just starting to form.  Ice came late in 1995 because there were numerous windy days that would remix the water so extensively that the ice could not coalesce.



Ice formed at the very end of 1995 in Kullorsuaq because there were numerous windy days that would remix the water so extensively that the ice could not coalesce.




Sea ice varies greatly in solidity upon the upwelling currents.

The ice pans you see in this picture area small and enough of a mix with fresh water that their edges are sharp even though they are the typical murky gray color.

It is hard to tell by looking when above sea ice whether it is solid or gelatinous.  Walking on sea ice is the only way to find out if the ice is solid.

Below is a 1996photo of dogsleds going out in Kullorsuaq, Greenland. 

Even though the snow covered surface may look solid, the ice off peninsulas can be dangerously mushy. 

I had the experience of nearly slipping through as I attempted to walk in the area to the left off this photo that was near a peninsula.  I realized too late that I was in an area where there were strong currents off that peninsula that were bringing warm water to the surface that was keeping the ice from forming as a solid sheet safe to walk on.

I was very lucky on my snowshoes as I saw a dogsled going by and rushed toward the dogsled trail where the ice was solid.

After that touchy moment I realized why the dogsleds such as the one you see below went through some areas and avoided other areas.

I watched Lars Jensen drive his dogsled through this area I had my near dunking and the dogs began to struggle as they worked very hard to  keep the sled going through what was deep a surface nothing more that deep slush.  The sled would have sunk through if they were unable to keep going.

Areas off Kullorsuaq Lars Jensen told me to watch out about and just stick to the dogsled trails because Walrus can burst through ice and grab unsuspecting people in an instant.




In the picture below is taken from a helicopter of an area behind an island Nussuaq where there is an open area.  This is evidence of a strong upwelling current.  No matter how cold the air above is the warm upwelling water will keep the ice from solidifying solidly.



Flying via helicopter south toward Tassiusaq I noticed this view of the ice.





In the photo below the ice looks even perfectly smooth with no breaks in it.  This is ice to the north of Kullorsuaq in Melville Bay.  The easiest time to travel across Melville is when it is frozen.  Crossing Melville by boat is much more difficult because it is loaded with ice most of the year.



I made a pair of snow shoes in anticipation during the fall when I lived in Kullorsuaq Greenland and used them to walk on the ice. 

There was one moment when I almost went through the ice.  It felt very strange to be walking in what looked to be a most innocent area not far from land and to begin to feel the ice shake like jello and start depressing beneath my weight.

I hastened my walking when I could feel that the surface was shaking even more violently. 

The surface looked like the rest of the area a gray opaque nothing especially different than elsewhere type of surface.

The picture below illustrates the peninsulas in that area.

This is one of those innocent looking areas which looks like nothing is happening there.  I had paddled my kayak around there a number of times.  In a kayak it is just a quiet place with a few peninsulas jutting out.