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Blasted mountains will deliver stones for new runways in Greenland

Photo: cowi

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17 million cubic metres of rock will be blasted away to make room for new and longer runways in Greenland. The rocks will be reused for three new runways and safeguard against the effects of climate change. COWI has been chosen as principal consultant.

28.08.2017

The expansion of the airports at Nuuk and Ilulissat in the west of Greenland and the construction of a new domestic airport at Qaqortoq in the south are likely to boost economic development and tourism in the country.

But apart from many years of experience of airport projects, it takes ‘rock science’ to build an airfield in a country where the mountains are everywhere, the permafrost is melting and icebergs up to 240 metres high move in the water and stir up big waves.

Recycled stone for climate protection

At all three airports, rock from the blasting will be used as filling and surfacing material on the runways. This not only avoids the need to move heavy materials over long distances; the rocks can also be used for climate protection.

“In Ilulissat, the permafrost has started to melt and subside. So we have to make special allowance for the fact that the ground is rock-hard in the winter but can be soft and almost liquid in the summer. By using stone from the blasted rocks, we can avoid using soil with properties that vary with the temperature,” explains project manager Gregers Hildebrand.

Another climate-related issue is the large icebergs moving around in the sea just off the airport at Ilulissat. Here, COWI is working on a coastal defence solution to protect the airport against very large waves, some of which come from Canada and some from the ice fields which churn around and break up, creating huge wave fronts.    

The airport at Ilulissat is right next to the sea and the extension of the runway from 845 to 2200 metres demands some five million cubic metres of rock, equivalent to 100 football pitches piled 10 metres high with stones.

Top-level expertise in action

At Nuuk airport, the runway will grow from 950 to 2200 metres, while the town of Qaqortoq is to get a completely new airport with a 1500-metre runway. 

“The three airport projects are very exciting because of the complex challenges associated with the Greenland environment and climate issues. We need to draw on many varied top-level skills from COWI around the world," says Gregers Hildebrand.   

Among others, the team will consist of geo-technical, electrical and hydrological engineers as well as engineers experienced in designing airports and with experience of handling rocks. 

Moreover, COWI cooperates with the Greenland-based consultancy Masanti A/S, which brings local knowledge to the project.

Facts about the project:

  • The runways are the first part of the project. The design of the airport buildings has just entered pre-qualification.
  • With the extensions, the two airports at Nuuk and Ilulissat will be able to handle aircraft the size of an Airbus A330 or equivalent, with up to 300 passengers.

LAST UPDATED: 28.08.2017