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Submarine ikaite column in the Ikkafjord / Southwestern Greenland

Source : The Ikka Project ?

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Ikaite - Ikait - Ikaite - Ikaita

North America : Greenland : Submarine Ikaite columns growing up to 10 m height in the Ikkafjord

Coordinates : aprox 61°11'N , 48°03'W : Ikkafjord, Arsukfjord, Ivigtut, southern Greenland

Ikaite is a strange mineral, which probably plays a much more important role in the worldwide carbonate deposition and in the global carbon cycle then previously thought.

Being a hydrated calcium carbonate- that is basically a water containing calcite - it was originally described as a very rare high pressure modification of calcite. Indeed it was discovered initialy in deep water sediments about 2000 m below the ocean surface, which is defintiely a high pressure environ.

However, subsequent research showed that Ikaite can also form in low pressure - low temperature oceanic environs as for instance in the spectacular ikaite columns discovered in the Ikkafjord in southern Greenland. It is also a common constituent of oceanic sediments, where large crystal pseudomorphoses of calcite after ikaite are quite common as in the moler deposits of Northern Denmark  (see here for more details) or in shallow water sediments of the Kola - Peninsula / Russia.

It looks like the process of cold water calcium carbonate precipitation was neglected by geologists for decades and may be an very important process both in terms of carbonate formation and fixating carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

In the Ikkafjord ikaite form up to 10 m large columns of almost pure, though algae covered, ikaite, which precipitates in form of small spiky crystals. They start to grow at the seafloor and may reach up to the fjord surface. However it is difficult to collect ikaite specimen, as the mineral dissolves rapidly under atmospheric conditions into just water and calcite sand !

Other notable & famous glendonite & ikaite occurences :

- Massive amounts of glendonite crystal spheres occur at Olenitsa along the shoreline of the White Sea / southern Kola Peninsula, GUS.

- Very peculiar and sharp whitish glendonite / ikaite crystal aggregates up to several cm occur at Khatanga, Taimyr region, Sibiria, GUS.

- Information on the giant glendonite / ikaite crystals on the Mors island in Northern Denmark can be found here.

Large typical glendonite crystals up to 20 cm size are known from the Hunter Valley area, New South Wales, Australia.

Giant proper ikaite crystals up to more than 1 m size have been recovered from the sea bottom in the Antarctic. These crystals quickly dissolve into calcite and water under surface conditions.

- Another notable ikaite occurence are the "thinolites" of the Mono Lake, California, which form huge "crystallized" tufa towers. These tufa towers are most likely a fossil example of the recent ikaite formations in the Ikka - Fjord mentioned above.


"Stranded" ikkaite column, collected by divers of the Ikka Project

Photo Source : The Ikka Project Website


Photo Source : The Ikka Project Website


Ikkafjord Essentials :

Mineralogy :

Ikaite / calcite and (possibly) aragonite pseudomorphs after ikaite

Crystal Size :

Ikaite columns up to 10 m height, though the individual ikaite crystals only reach a few mm

Geology & Origin :

Recent precipitation from calcium carbonate oversaturated solutions in contact with salt water

Current status :    

Active precipitation, the site is remote and can only be visited by experienced divers with cold water gear

Remarks :

Interesting example of early stage CaCO3 precipitation in cold water environment
Resources and relevant weblinks :

The following references are from the Ikka Project website, which is a valuable online ressource about the mineral Ikaite and the Ikkafjord in Greenland and which can be accessed here

Buchardt, B., Düwel, L., Kristiansen, A., Pedersen, G. H., Stockmann, G., Thorbjørn, L., Westergaard. D., 1996. En naturskabt søjlehave I Ikkafjorden I Sydvestgrønland. Naturens Verden, 250. 241-250.

Buchardt, B, Seaman, P. G., Düwel, L., Kristiansen, R. M., Kristiansen, A., Pedersen, G. H., Stockmann, G., Thorbjørn, L., Vous, M., Whiticar, M. J., & Wilken, U., 1997. Submarine columns of ikaite tufa. Nature. November 13. 390 issue number 6656.

Marland, G., 1975. Stability of calcium carbonate hexahydrate (ikaite). Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 39, 83-91.

Pauly, H., 1963b. Ikaite - nyt mineral der danner skaer. Naturens Verden, June 1963. 168 - 171 & 186-192.

Seaman, P. G., 1998. Ikaite formation in a fjord environment with special reference to Ikka fjord. Unpublished Ph. D. thesis. University of London. 258 pages.

Suess, E., Balzer, W., Hesse, K-F., Muller,P.J., Ungerer, C.A., & Wefer,G., 1982. Calcium Carbonate Hexahydrate from Organic-Rich Sediments of the Arctic Shelf: Precursors of Glendonites. Science, 1216, 1128-1130.

A comprehensive summary of the most recent scientific data on the formation of ikaite (in german) by L. GEISLER can be found here


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