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No. 664: Aluminium smelter and hydro power in central West Greenland - Measure data for SAE report

Johansen, P., Aastrup, P., Boertmann, D., Glahder, C., Johansen, K., Nymand, J., Rasmussen, L.M. & Tamstorf, M. 2008. National Environmental Research Institute, University of Aarhus. 110 pp. - NERI Technical Report no. 664.




This report was prepared by the National Environmental Research Institute and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources for the Greenland Home Rule Government to be used for preparing a Strategic Environmental Assessment in connection with the proposed aluminium smelter and hydroelectric project in central <st1:place w:st="on">West Greenland</st1:place> . The objective of the report is to gather and evaluate existing environmental data within the region that is affected by the project.


The report contains descriptions of plant and animal life and of human resource use through hunting, fishing, tourism etc. In the descriptions of plant and animal life we focus on species that are 1) important to fishing and hunting, 2) rare or threatened, and 3) of international importance. If data are sufficient, we have prepared maps showing the most important areas to a certain species or to human resource use within the region. For each species discussed, we evaluate the importance of the region to the species and the risk that it may be impacted by the aluminium smelter and hydroelectric project.


Vegetation is an important determinant of the occurrence of caribou, muskox and geese. There are large differences in the composition of the vegetation within the region, e.g. between oceanic, coastal areas and continental areas towards the Inland Icecap. Elevation is also important, and some high-lying areas have no vegetation. A number of rare plant species occur within the region. Establishing reservoir lakes as water supplies to hydroelectric plants implies that some vegetated areas will be flooded and the vegetation will be destroyed. This will, however probably affect only smaller areas. The construction of roads will, to a smaller extent, affect the vegetation. The potential impact of the project on the vegetation, including rare species, should be considered as construction plans are made so that the impact of new roads, transmission lines and other installations can be mitigated.


The region is important to caribou and muskoxen. The highest concentrations of caribou are found north of Kangerlussuaq and south of Maniitsup Sermia. In the northern part of the region at Kangerlussuaq the animals migrate and are found primarily in early summer in the inland areas, where they also calve, while in the other part of the year they are found in more coastal areas. There are also other migration patterns in this caribou herd, but these are not well documented. In the southern part of the region the migration pattern is more complicated. Some animals are found in coastal areas all year round, while others migrate between winter habitats in coastal areas and calving and summer habitats in the inland region. Some information is available concerning the distribution of caribou in the region, but it is patchy in time and space. There are no systematically collected data on the migration and location of calving areas, but these are needed. Construction works of hydroelectric plants or transmission lines will affect the distribution of caribou in the region, but when construction works and disturbance have ceased, the animals will be expected to return, if there is no human activity in the area.


Originally muskoxen were found only in Northeast and East Greenland, and the populations found today in West Greenland originate from animals that were moved to Kangerlussuaq from <st1:place w:st="on">East Greenland</st1:place>  . After the introduction the population has grown very fast. In the region muskoxen are primarily found south of the airport at Kangerlussuaq. It is not likely that the population will be affected by the project, as construction activities are not expected to take place within the main habitat areas of muskoxen. However, the construction of a road and of transmission lines in Sarfartoq will affect animals in construction areas, and such new infrastructure will ease access to the area and may increase disturbance.


The harlequin duck is a small diving duck that is potentially vulnerable to impact by the operation of hydroelectric plants, because it breeds at lakes and streams with clear water. However, the three large lake areas planned to be used as reservoirs for the hydroelectric plants are not harlequin duck habitat. The water is silty (melt water from the Inland Icecap) and the lakes are at high altitudes and become late ice free. Therefore it does not seem likely that the harlequin population in the region will be affected by the project. When the detailed plans for the hydroelectric plants are known, there should be an evaluation of the potential effects, e.g. if water is moved from streams that could be harlequin duck habitat.


The population of Greenland white-fronted goose is unique, because it only breeds in <st1:place w:st="on">West Greenland</st1:place>  . The geese arrive to <st1:place w:st="on">Greenland</st1:place> in spring use specific spring staging areas, which are very important to their breeding success. Within the region only few spring staging areas are found south of Maniitsup Sermia, while north of here there are more, of which two are very important. Similar spring staging areas are not known for the Canada goose, which is the other goose species found in the region. The density of nests for both goose species is low in the region, and probably only few nests will be affected by the project. After breeding the geese gather in flocks to moult. As they cannot fly away to another area while moulting they can be very sensitive to local disturbances during this period. After moulting and until they leave <st1:place w:st="on">Greenland</st1:place> the geese forage, but in that period few forage habitats will be affected by the project.


It is not likely that other terrestrial bird populations in the region, including red-throated diver, great northern diver, gyr falcon, perigrine falcon and white-tailed eagle, will be significantly affected by the project.


The Arctic char is very common in <st1:place w:st="on">Southwest Greenland</st1:place>  and is found all over in the region. When constructing and operating hydroelectric plants the discharge patterns will change and so will the conditions of the char in the lakes and streams affected. However, if a local char population is affected or even destroyed this will have consequences for local fishing. It should be studied to what extent local char populations will be affected by the project. This probably is most important to the char population in Sarfartoq.


The coastal zone has unique importance to colony breeding birds (particularly thick-billed murre and kittiwake), to fish species spawning at the coast (capelin and lumpsucker) and to the harbour seal, which breeds and moults on land. These species are potentially exposed to impact by the project, in particular in the construction phase, when operations are conducted at the coast. Possible effects may be mitigated by coordinating construction times and coordinating methods that do not conflict with habitat use by these species. However, a southern smelter location with a harbour (and a town development etc.) at Akia/Nordlandet may significantly impact this area, which is an important stage and forage area to seabirds and waders.


Caribou are hunted in the whole region, but mostly in the area north of Nuup Kangerlua and around Kangerlussuaq. Areas close to the coast and many valleys are important. Some hunting areas are located in the far inland. The plans to develop hydroelectric in the region may affect the caribou hunting, as hydroelectric plants and transmission lines will be located in areas used for hunting. The most significant effects may be expected during the construction phase. However, establishing infrastructure, particularly roads, will ease access to inland areas not used for hunting and other activities earlier. The impact of these will depend on the way they are regulated.


Most hunting for muskoxen takes place in the area south of the airport at Kangerlussuaq. Many animals are also shot in coastal areas at Kangerlussuaq. However, the most important hunting areas are found outside the area that will be affected by the project.


A few terrestrial bird species are hunted in the region. The most important is ptarmigan. Hunting for <st1:place w:st="on">Greenland</st1:place>  white-fronted goose, Canada goose, mallard and great northern diver also takes place. Little is known about the importance of different hunting areas, but most likely the hunting is so dispersed that it will not be significantly affected by the project.


Besides hunting and fishing, the land is also used for recreation, e.g. tours often combined with lodging in cottages, tents or boats. Such tours are often combined with hunting and fishing and other resource use, such as picking berries. Organized tourism, i.e. arranged tours with paying participants, is an increasing activity. These tours often go to specific localities. If a smelter is located at a town this may significantly affect recreational areas there and the perception of the relation between the town and the surrounding nature. The perception of the landscape, particular the silence and virginity attracts many tourists and is used to market tourism. Transmission lines and other installations will be perceived negatively by most people who come to experience relatively undisturbed nature. However, some local tourist bureaus consider that the development of infrastructure may facilitate more tourists if the new installations include improved roads. However, there are no quantitative or qualitative studies of the use or recreational areas that could be used to evaluate the importance of these areas.


Full report in pdf-format (11,252 kB)