For the first time in many years, the Greenlandic maps have gained new place names after deceased persons. Three glaciers have now been named after three late glaciologists, who all made exceptional contributions to Greenlandic society and science - Niels Reeh, Anker Weidick and Konrad Steffen. The latter died in a tragic accident whilst doing field work on the ice sheet near Ilulissat in 2020.
Thus, a land-terminating glacier in the far North that features the ice sheet’s surface exposure of oldest ice from the last glacial period will from now on be known as Sermeq Niels Reeh (Sermeq is Greenlandic for glacier). A small valley glacier with complicated moraine and ice patterns reflecting the complexities of recent climate changes in the South will now be known as Sermeq Anker Weidick. Last, but certainly not least, a marine-terminating glacier in the North that provides a strong connection between the ice sheet and the ocean now bears the name Sermeq Konrad Steffen.
“The Greenland Place Name Committee has reviewed the proposals and we have used different methods of investigation to find out whether there were existing, unregistered Greenlandic place names around the proposed locations. In our decision, we have aimed to ensure, that the proposals were in agreement with the relevant points in our current working basis, including extraordinary reasons for verification of place names in Greenland,” states a joint committee.
“Incredibly unique event”
The Greenland Place Name Committee has approved the proposal on 9 June. The issue had been in the works since the beginning of 2021, when the Committee received a joint proposal from colleagues at the scientific institutions with which the three glaciologists were affiliated. The proposal was initiated and coordinated by senior researcher William Colgan from GEUS (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, where both Niels Reeh and Anker Weidick did their research). Naturally, he is thrilled by the news:
“This is an incredibly unique event, a literal ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ cultural honour being authorized by the Greenland Place Name Committee for three very well-deserving glaciologists with huge connections to Greenlandic science and society,” he says.
The proposal stated why each of these three researchers deserved to have a Greenlandic glacier named after them, including technical details and justifications as to which glaciers. Furthermore, it contained numerous statements and support letters from an array of stakeholders testifying to each of the three candidates’ ethical good standing and extraordinary contribution to science and the Greenlandic society. The families of the three deceased researchers were of course consulted as well.
Promoting discussion on place names
Apart from honoring the three men and their lifelong dedication to the Greenlandic glaciers, the decision to name glaciers after them also elevates Greenlandic culture, according to one of the Greenlandic proposal partners:
“It is a great privilege to be part of this initiative. In addition to honouring these three extraordinary candidates, this initiative promotes discussion of the Greenlandic cultural heritage of place names to the broader public,” says Eva Mätzler from the group behind the proposal.
When the proposal was written, Eva Mätzler was on the board of the Greenland Place Name Committee, but she resigned temporarily to join the work on the proposal along with colleagues from GEUS, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder (CIRES) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL).