Building the longest road in Greenland
Author: Karina Lumholt
With a population of little more than 3,000, Qaqortoq is the city with the most residents in southern Greenland. It is also the fourth largest city on the island.
As all populated places in Greenland, Qaqortoq is not connected to other places by roads. The city is linked by helicopter to the Narsarsuaq Airport, which is located 90 kilometres away. These helicopters can only transport nine people at a time. The only other way to get to Qaqortoq is by boat, and this can only be done as long as it is warm.
Transport to and from Qaqortoq is challenging and expensive due to:
- Vast distances
- Severe climate
- Difficult terrain
It is actually less expensive to construct a new airport than to connect the towns with roads. A new airport can be of major importance for economic growth, provide employment and encourage tourism, which plays an increasing role in Greenland’s economy.
In 2014, Greenland’s Parliament, Inatsisartut, granted funding for the construction of a 6.2 km road leading to the future airport. Qaqortoq Entreprenørforretning won the contract and worked on the construction of the road.
An adventure in its own right
The transportation system in Greenland is truly an adventure. No roads, no railways – nature rules. Historically the major means of transportation have been by boat in summer and by dog sled in winter.
There are only a total of 150 km of roads in the whole country and only 60 km of these are paved. The 6.2 km road in Qaqortoq is the longest single road that has been built since World War II.
Constructing a road in southern Greenland is extremely difficult and expensive. There are no construction materials since the subsoil only consists of rocky mountainous terrain, which must first be blasted and then crushed in order for it to be used as foundation for the road.
“We have used 35 tonnes of explosives to blast 70,000 m3,” explains Lars Motzfeldt Jensen, who is one of the two owners of Qaqortoq Entreprenørforretning.
Harsh winter climate
Qaqortoq Entreprenørforretning already had a Leica iCON excavate 2D solution installed on its machines. The company recently decided, though, to upgrade to a Leica iCON excavate 3D solution and buy a second one for its new Hitachi 350 excavator.
The solutions from Leica Geosystems have worked faultlessly even in the harsh climate conditions of the arctic winter with temperatures of -25 °C after dark.
However, there are certain challenges in Greenland as Per Eriksen from Leica Geosystems explains: “500 metres away from the centre of Qaqortoq, we lose the telephone connection. This makes calibration and service of the solutions very difficult. We used radio repeater stations in order to transmit the correction signals from the reference station to the GNSS antennae on the machines.”
According to Jensen, the 3D solutions have saved a lot of time and cost.
Building a road is now more fun
“If we had known that we would save that much time and cost, we would certainly have bought a 3D solution for our driller as well,” said Jensen.
A positive side effect of using machine control has been the increased job satisfaction for the machine operators.
“It’s so much more fun building a road when we use 3D equipment,” says Nikki Davidsen who works as machine excavator operator for Qaqortoq Entreprenørforretning.
Ready for building the airport
When the new airport is approved for construction and starts, Qaqortoq Entreprenørforretning is ready for the job. Jensen explains the project would benefit from using Leica Geosystems 3D solutions.
“We are the best equipped construction company in Greenland, and if the Greenland parliament decides to build the airport, we are definitely ready for the task,” Jensen concluded.