A Greenland Wasteland

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck
As we paddled to shore on day six, new shades broke onto the palatte of blues, greens and greys we had become accustomed to seeing. On an open field just overhead from the beach, dull auburn and copper streaked across the land.

It wasn’t random patches of a rare arctic plant but a mammoth and disastrous mess of rotting metal – the sort of mess that can only be made by the careless hand of man.

We were seeing the remains of the Ikateq Airbase, code name “Bluie East Two”, built by the US in 1942. Erected as a weather station and base for flying anti-submarine patrols over the north Atlantic, its usefulness waned after WWII, and was abandoned in 1947.

They left everything behind. Dozens of vehicles, a crumpled air hanger, and over 20,000 oil barrels. As we traipsed through the wreckage I kicked at broken plates, circuit boards, countless chunks of treated wood being absorbed into the earth below with foliage creeping over.

It was the sort of mess that could only be made by the careless hand of man.

Ikateq PO 198

Ikateq Greenland Abandoned Truck
Ikateq Sunk Truck
Beautiful Chaos

Truck View

Ikateq Barrels and More Barrels

Ikateq Landscape

Ikateq Greenland Abandoned Truck
Ikateq Vintage Truck

Ikateq Greenland Wasteland

Ikateq Shoreline

The sad reality is that this isn’t the only site. A nuclear powered cold war site, abandoned in 1966, now sits crushed under arctic snow just 800 kms shy of the north pole. And although the Thule Air Base is still being used by US and Danish forces, elevated radiation levels in a nearby fjord (thanks to a 1968 crash of a B-52 that was carrying four hydrogen bombs) remain ignored. And there are more.

How can such messes still exist? Unless specifically outlined in the same agreements which saw to their construction in the first place, the US position has been that it “reflect[s] a shared burden with our host nation for our contribution for defense of the free world.” And, according to a former Denmark minister of environment, “They [US] said if they were to clean up after themselves at Thule, then they would be met by similar demands in the Philippines, Japan, and elsewhere in the world. They didn’t want to set that precedent.”

It is unknown what the cost would be to clean up these environmental disasters that remain a scourge on the otherwise pristine and stunning Greenland landscape. What the cost will be if they are left unchecked, with contaminants sinking into the ice cap and uncovered land such as Ikateq, is unknown as well.

And by the dire looks of things, there is no rush to find out.

Our journey in Greenland was courtesy of Greenland Tours. All opinions, as always, are our own. For a review of our entire trip with them, please click here.
39 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Cam
    September 16 2013

    Fantastic photos guys! It looks haunted
    Cam recently posted..A Visual Tour of the Colca Canyon in Peru

  • September 16 2013

    Ugh, what a shame. These photos are so eerie but I can’t look away.
    Lauren Meshkin recently posted..Photo Guide: Most memorable places in Budapest

    • September 19 2013

      I know, right? That’s how we felt when we are there. It’s eerily beautiful, actually, although I hate to use that word.

  • September 17 2013

    I wish I could say “how dare they,” but I kind of figured that once you said U.S., that stuff is there to stay. =/

  • September 17 2013

    What a shame to just leave such a mess.
    Jennifer recently posted..Luxe Lotte Hotel Moscow

  • Mom
    September 16 2013

    Shame on MAN !!!!

  • September 17 2013

    Absolutely fascinating!

  • September 17 2013

    Haunting…my boyfriend once flew into a base nearby but had never heard of this one. Must not be important to NATO, either.

    • September 19 2013

      Or, anybody. Such a sad mess.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    September 17 2013

    These photos are really spectacular! I have discovered in my own travels that I’m a big fan of “urban decay” photography, and this seems like Greenland’s equivalent. It’s so eerie and atmospheric!

  • September 17 2013

    I can’t believe how arrogant the US is with the “shared burden” and the “setting a precedent” excuse. Stunning photos, but they would look much nicer without all that junk.
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..5 (More) Quirky Things to Do in Orlando

  • September 17 2013

    We are speechless and angry at the same time.
    Sometimes it seems that arrogance and stupidity of
    human beings has no limits.
    Thank you for bringing this mess to the light.
    We think all of us travel-bloggers should write more about such things.
    If we will not have our beautiful planet, where will we travel then.
    Traveling couple recently posted..Interview with Dave and Carmen from Double-Barrelled Travel

  • September 17 2013

    Environmentally, what a disaster and what a shame. But photographically… wow. I can’t help but think it looks amazing (even if I know it’s wrong!)
    Alex recently posted..Photo of the Week 118

    • September 19 2013

      Our thoughts exactly! Such a horrid mess, but at the same time, kind of a photographer’s dream.

  • September 17 2013

    They have an abandoned base in Iceland as well. *sigh*

  • September 17 2013

    The photos are striking, but the reality of it is indeed worrisome and sad. That attitude – the “we don’t want to have to set a precedent and actually clean up after ourselves” – is pretty appalling. Makes me a little ashamed of my country, actually.
    Amanda recently posted..How Cesky Krumlov Charmed My Socks Off

    • September 19 2013

      I can understand the concept of a “shared responsibility”…to a point. It essentially gives them a license to do anything if that is the case. Dreadful.

  • September 18 2013

    Wow! It may be litter, but it makes for some really interesting photos. It reminds me a little of the train graveyard just outside Uyuni in Bolivia.
    Arianwen recently posted..Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World

    • September 19 2013

      Oh yeah, it does! We’ve been there too but never made that connection.

  • Simone
    September 18 2013

    Such a shame of such a gorgeous environment. You did capture that mess beautifully though… Great shots…

  • September 20 2013

    Beautiful photos of something disgusting! You’re very talented photographers. I bet there’s loads of places like this all around the world that people just don’t know about, that’s the sad thing.

    • September 23 2013

      That is the sad thing, and I am sure you are right.

  • September 21 2013

    What a horror. This is the last thing I would imagine to see in this amazing land.

    OUr sad reality is never hidden.

    • September 23 2013

      It was totally unexpected for us as well.

  • September 21 2013

    I am torn between being horrified by this site and the others that you mentioned and their potentially enormous environmental impact – and awe at how beautifully you have documented this site. The images are as gorgeous as the article is illuminating.

    • September 23 2013

      Thanks Mary. Agree with your sentiment entirely. A horrible juxtaposition, really.

  • September 21 2013

    Ugh. Leave it to us to leave our mess behind destroying the ecosystems of other nations. (But, for a photographer that loves urban decay style photography, the photos are gorgeous!)

  • September 21 2013

    I’d never heard of places like this! The impact on the local environment is troubling, but I love the way you can see nature reclaiming bits and pieces as everything rusts.
    Jess recently posted..When Fall Comes to Denali

  • September 21 2013

    It’s so sad to see things like this happen. However, your photos are stunning! What a glorious landscape .

  • Nancy D. Brown
    September 22 2013

    Great photos. Sigh…what a disgrace from the United States.

  • September 23 2013

    Wowzers! So dramatic!

  • September 23 2013

    Wow.. I’m amazed there are still air in the truck tires. I’m shocked but not surprised at this mess. The US foreign policy is somewhat bullish and their hypocrisy for environmental policy knows no bounds.

  • Ali
    September 24 2013

    I’m so embarrassed by my country sometimes. I don’t understand why the government feels like it’s ok to leave messes and destruction all over the world. So sad.

  • September 25 2013

    Like many of the other commentators, I’m vacillating between the shamefulness of the environmental damage and the stark beauty of the photographs!
    Heather recently posted..Shanghai Aquarium: An Underwater Adventure

  • September 25 2013

    On the bright side, it makes for some interesting photography.

  • mari3
    October 2 2013

    So, what is YOUR solution for cleaning it up.?
    Major problem,,,,,

    • October 4 2013

      The people who made the mess should clean it up! I think it is that simple.

  • Incredible how you guys manage to capture something so horrible so beautiful. Great pictures, sad story!

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