There are heaps of WWII junk rusting in Greenland — and the photos are eerily beautiful

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Ken Bower

Hey America, you forgot a huge pile of junk in the wilderness.

Abandoned by the US Air Force in 1947, Bluie East Two is one of several World War II and Cold War installations left to crumble in Greenland after the military lost interest in maintaining them. (Another, from the Army’s secret “Project Iceworm,” could soon leak toxic nuclear waste into the environment.)

“Bluie” was military code for Greenland during the war with Germany. Bluie East Two was one of three aircraft bases maintained on the Danish territory in North America as part of the US Atlantic defense scheme of the period.

In two trips in the summers of 2014 and 2015, landscape photographer Ken Bower traveled to Bluie East Two to shoot the hulks of rusted equipment, aviation-fuel barrels, and collapsed buildings still strewn across the earth at the lip of great fjord. He said he hopes his images bring attention to the problem, along with a petition to clean up the site he’s circulated in hopes of catching the White House’s attention.

Here is what he saw.


“Going down the fjord on a sunny day,” he said, “if the sun is hitting these barrels it kind of looks like flowers from a distance.”

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Ken Bower

That’s why the Inuit people who live in the area call the rusted remains “American Flowers.”

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Ken Bower

“From the beach there’s a little hill that goes up, probably at least 100 feet or so, so that you’ll see lines of barrels,” Bower said.

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Ken Bower

“And as you climb up this hill you’ll see more and more barrels.”

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Ken Bower

“And then back in the distance [you see] military vehicles.”

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Ken Bower

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Ken Bower

“And a big collapsed … what I think was a warehouse or airplane hangar.”

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Ken Bower

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Ken Bower

Bower had traveled the Arctic in the past, sailing and hiking and shooting landscape photos.

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Ken Bower

He heard about the American Flowers, and decided he wanted to see the bizarre scene for himself.

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Ken Bower

Bower visited for the first time in August 2014, late enough in the season that the ice in the fjords had broken up.

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Ken Bower

But that late in the season, all the snow on the ground had melted.

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Ken Bower

“I wanted to go there when there would still be snow on the ground, so you kind of have this white purity of the snow with the contrast of the rusted elements in there. But that meant getting there much earlier in the season,” Bower said.

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Ken Bower

He returned in July 2015. It took three attempts over five days for his friend Kanuk to deliver Bower to Bluie East Two through the thick ocean ice.

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Ken Bower

On arrival, he hiked 2 1/2 miles inland of Bluie East Two to make camp — far enough from the water to avoid polar-bear prowling grounds at night. (A loud shotgun shell with the pellets removed hooked up to a tripwire provided an extra precaution as he slept.)

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Ken Bower

He woke up to shoot between 4 and 6 in the morning, when low, dramatic clouds and fog hang in the air in Greenland, diffusing the harsh summer sun.

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Ken Bower

The rest of the day he hiked, fished, and planned his shots for the next morning. He never saw another person or animal while he was there — though he said he could hear arctic foxes calling at night.

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Ken Bower

He planned to stay five days, but ended up stranded for eight while his friend struggled to navigate the ice. (Fortunately, he said, he’d packed enough food for two weeks.)

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Ken Bower

Bower said his next projects will take him to the Faroe Islands, and then a village in northeastern Greenland that houses Inuit people displaced by US military activity during the Cold War.

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Ken Bower