The captivating environments of the Godthåbsfjord

The Godthåbsfjord is the largest fjord system in southwest Greenland with a total length of 425 km. Located on the southwest coast of Greenland with the capital Nuuk situated at the mouth of the fjord, the fjord system represents a unique example of how glaciers have carved the soil and bedrock, gouging out steep-sided valleys.

Through history and up to today, the Godthåbsfjord, like many of the fjords along the west coast of Greenland, has served as a pathway for ice, water and sediment from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Glaciers have expanded and retreated, fjords have been covered with seasonal ice, seasons have been in a constant change, altering and shaping the eco-history of the fjord.


The fjord system is complex and made up of a number of fjord branches. The fjord, having three tidal outlet glaciers, as well as three landlocked exit glaciers, facilitates specific oceanographic and environmental settings along the fjord. Likewise, the eco-system covers a wide and diverse representation of pelagic and benthic species, fish, marine mammals, birds, insects, terrestrial animals, predators and prey, all having their own significant role in the system.


The settings of this fjord and the past and present climatic and environmental variations in this area are significant, also resulting in different patterns of human habitation and settlement. The Godthåbsfjord region, being the most densely populated part of Greenland both in the past and present, represents a large repertoire and a long history of movement, relations and knowledge. It represents a cultural history of the Saqqaq culture, the Dorset, the entering of the Thule culture and the colonisation by Hans Egede in 1721.

The Godthåbsfjord represents a history of how the nomadic life has altered in relation to the missionaries’ influences, the representation of the Royal Greenlandic Trading Department (KGH), as well as cultural transition, conflicts and development. It is a map and a visualisation both of variations and alterations of life that are represented in the traditional knowledge people behold as well as the pristine cultural landscapes being a unique asset and setting for studying eco-histories, methods of combining fields of knowledge, opening a door to the knowledge of tomorrow.


I have travelled extensively in the Godthåbsfjord and not just for the research. I have travelled there with my family and with friends. I have looked out of the window, every day, from my home in Nuuk, watching the ice, watching the clouds and tasting the air.

However, a new world opened up, when I was introduced to the knowledge held by the elders, locals and hunters, who have spent a lifetime travelling, hunting and fishing in the region.


Suddenly, my relationship to this spectacular fjord changed as well as my movements in and around it. When hunting or travelling with my family, we not only travelled through landscapes of perception but also landscapes of history.

I suddenly became aware that my encounters with the fjord system represented one aspect of a series of movement through a virtual map built upon stories, place names and history. This way of knowing changed my relation to the area and awakened my curiosity of knowing more.

In the beginning, traditional knowledge wasn’t an initial part of my project, but now it has become the most important asset. It is what defines the project and tells me what I look for, what to study and how to understand the things I see.”

This knowledge gave me a unique insight into how to define what knowledge is for me in my research, and how I would argue, that different sciences and disciplines need to look upon it as well. Knowledge is usually defined as “that which gives meaning to a situation, an event, a phenomenon or a process.” We construct this meaning by assembling a number of small units of information. These “units of information” are the foundation of knowledge. As we assemble and process these units in our mind, a broader understanding gradually unfolds. This broader understanding is greater than the sum of its parts, because our mind also makes connections between and among the units, and as it does so, it creates new information. This interlacing of units increases the value of the whole set, constantly generating new knowledge. So, knowledge acquisition is a dynamic process rather than a static result.

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This describes perfectly how the hunters, and elders of the Godthåbsfjord region inspired me to work and think about how to shape the assemblages of knowledge that I was gathering, and whether such knowledge derived from natural science, social science, traditional and local knowledge – or knowledge of other interrelated significance.

During the ten years I was living in Nuuk, the Godthåbsfjord inspired me to embark on a journey through seasonal and environmental variations, observing the complex interactions between the webs of elements defining the environments. I have experienced natural scientific models of glaciers and ice dynamics being incorrect just because a minimal change in air, temperature. oceanographic setting or microcosm has occurred, which could not be caught by the algebra behind the stimulations, but only be noticed through several years of movement in the area. I have played with interrelated ways of knowing, of how to understand changes and variations through co-production of knowledge and how to perceive future predicaments of management, monitoring and climate environmental variations. I have learned how important it is to know and how knowing is an ever-continuing assembling of knowledge of this region. Even though I present some of the knowledge I have assembled here, I do not know it all, and I am still in the process of learning and will always be, and this is maybe the beauty of environments being so dynamic – a place of becoming – as many Inuit describe it.


From a personal perspective, the Godthåbsfjord has been the scenery and frame for my working ground as well as our larder for food and family times.

The seasonal settings are diverse and at times dramatic; changing seascapes to icescapes, changing means of transport from boats to snowmobiles, changing the scenery of the midnight sun to a very different one during the dark, snowy and cold winter.

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I have found these contrasts fascinating in addition to the knowledge and experience that follow from the familiarity of having lived here for so many years.

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”

– Anton Chekhov

And on the 27th of June, I will be defending my 3 year journey of this fantastic scenary, three years of putting knowledge into practice, three years of my PhD.

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