Greenland in the Headlines
Well, your ice-blogger is back from Greenland and trying to get back to business as usual, if there is such a thing.
(Meltpond on the Greenland ice sheet from the air)
I’m still working on stories for radio and online and will put some links to shorter pieces below.I’m making some longer features as part of our international “Pole to Pole” project, which will only be ready later. Meanwhile there’s no shortage of climate developments to keep a journalist out of mischief in the run-up to Copenhagen.
Other media reports have been confirming my own experiences on climate change in Greenland.
The Guardian had a huge spread, including front-page coverage, on the rapid loss of mass from the ice sheet.
Guardian Correspondent on Greenland
The Guardian is actively running a campaign it calls 10:10, reduce your own emissions by 10% in 2010. Does that sound like a lot to you or far too little?
The background on 10:10
A large-scale campaign like this has surely got to be a good idea?
More alarming ice-breaking (-melting?) news came out in the form of a WWF report launched at World Climate Conference 3 in Geneva.
(Why do we need yet another climate conference?)
The report sums up the latest scientific evidence on the changes taking place in the Arctic and warns that feedback effects from the warming will speed up and increase climate change all over the planet. A quarter of the world’s population could be affected by flooding as a result of melting ice.
WWF’s Arctic Climate Expert Martin Sommerkorn on Arctic and World Climate
WWF’s Arctic site
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon picked up on that same theme addressing the conference after a trip up to the Arctic the same week. You’d think that meant top priority for the climate change issue. But is it resulting in any action?
A couple of Greenland article links:
Climate Change already visible in Greenland
Young Volunteers help protect World Heritage Ice Fjord
DateSeptember 9, 2009 | 8:32 am
Calving Glaciers and Arctic Wildlife
It’s not possible to get close up to the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier by boat because of all the icebergs in the ice fjord.
It is possible to have a good look at one of the others though, Eqip (pronounced Eh-ri, I’m not sure how the transcription gets to Equip), if you’re prepared to spend five hours each way on a boat, which I did. That reminds you once again you’re definitely up in the polar circle. On a bright summer’s day, the wind is literally icy, as you travel out through the ice cover on the water, between the icebergs.
Boats have to keep a safety distance of 400m from the wall of ice. All around the ice on the water crackles and pops as the oxygen it contains escapes.
This glacier calves around every half-hour. There’s a rumble like thunder, a crack like a gun and a lump of ice falling down into the sound in an explosion of what looks like powdery snow. This glacier, too, is on the retreat.
The oxygen-rich waters are full of fish. Attractive for seabirds:
I saw little seals popping up between the icebergs. Some humpback whales also put in an appearance, although they were playing hard to get for the camera:
But the species of wildlife I had most contact with was undoubtedly the hardy Arctic mosquito. Yes, even in Ilulissat, surrounded by icebergs, there are mosquitos. Elke Meissner, the German honorary consul, told me you could set your calendar by them, mid-June to mid-August. No doubt that too, is changing. A climate-change induced extension of the “grozzie” season is definitely not something I’d welcome. In Zackenberg, I was told they’re only around for one month – unfortunately I picked it. The wind keeps them away, so the boat trip with the icy wind was a treat. But when we got close to land to pick up some people camping in the area of the Eqip glacier, they were all wearing mosquito nets and desperate to come on board. They brought clouds with them, but they didn’t survive long (for one reason or another).
Meanwhile, the captain chopped up some of the ice he’d taken on board at the glacier – the ship’s drinking water.
12 hours later, we headed into the harbour of Ilulissat.
DateAugust 3, 2009 | 4:21 pm
Changing Climate, Changing World
Changing shades of ice at 2am
I just read an advertisement for “mobile tourist cabins”. The main advantage listed is that you can move them around to cope with climate change, so that you can shift them with the ice sheet as it retreats.
Climate change is very obvious here, although I’ve met a few people who still think it could be just natural fluctuation. Some of them are people in the tourist industry. Jens Laursen, the manager of tourism in Kangerlussuaq is unwilling to accept a connection between emissions from air travel and retreating ice. He is, of course, dependent on people coming to Greenland by air. Flying is the main way to get anywhere here, and the distances are huge on the world’s biggest island. In winter, dogsled has traditionally been the main means of transport, not only for personal use, but for instance for fishermen, who bring large quantities of halibut they catch by a long line dropped through holes in the ice over the snowy slopes to Ilulissat. But this is losing importance, as the season when there’s enough hard-packed snow for it to be viable is becoming shorter, and the winters become less predictable.
Accounts from the locals here back up what the scientists are telling us. Morten Rasch, the man behind the Zackenberg ecological monitoring programme, for example, stresses that the variability of the climate will increase. Yesterday I interviewed Karen Filskov, who comes from Ilulissat and now works for Destination Avannaa -the regional office promoting development in the huge region of North Greenland, Qaasuitsup kommunia. It’s said to be the biggest municipality in the world in terms of area, with 660,000 km2. She told me a series of winters in a row up to 2006 had been so mild the fishermen could fish from boats in the bay rather than taking the dogsleds to the ice. A lot of them then got rid of their dog teams, which are expensive to feed. Then the last two winters were particularly harsh. The water was frozen, and they had no dogs. It’s becoming increasingly changeable, she says.
Karen told me there are still 3,000 dogs in Ilulissat. Most of them now have to be kept outside the town centre – admittedly not far away. There’s a weird rugged rocky area dotted with little dog kennels and huskies – chained so they don’t run around fighting in packs – dozing in the heat beside their sleds.
The captain of the “Pearl”, a boat that takes people to see calving glaciers up the coast, told me he had not only noticed differences in his work on the water. He used to travel around, for instance to matches with his local football team, using the dogsled in winter. Now, he says, he can only rely on that for a few weeks rather than a few months. Incidentally, I talked to him with the assistance of Laali Berthelsen from Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.
She’s working here as a guide in between her studies. She’s one of the few people here who seems to have recognised the potential of learning languages and the tourism industry. Most of the people working as guides here are from Denmark or other European countries. It seems there’s still a lack of locals with the necessary language skills. Nowadays, the children (and there are plenty of them here) are learning English at an early stage in school, so perhaps the next generation will be different.
Laali also told me she used to get new skis every Christmas as a child in Nuuk. These days she has to go somewhere else if she want’s enough snow to ski.
Ilulissat’s glacier, Sermeq Kujalleq (Jakobshauen) and the ice fjord (Kangia) are striking witnesses to the process of global change (assuming you know what they were like before, that is).
The glacier discharges ice from the inland ice sheet into the sea. The pieces that break off are stranded in the fjord, where the water is fairly shallow, resulting in the spectacular jam of icebergs, some smooth, some jagged, over kilometres, right down to the mouth at Ilulissat. But the glacier itself has retreated massively, especially since 2001. Karen tells me the icebergs are smaller (although still huge), because the ice is also thinner.
DateJuly 31, 2009 | 7:57 pm
“Global Contact” in the Town on the Icefjord
Ilulissat was once a small trading post. Nowadays it has 4,500 inhabitants, and the number is growing rapidly.
You can smell fish in quite a few parts of the town. Fishing is the number one industry
It happens on a commercial scale, particularly for halibut and shrimps. The town has a shrimp processing factory. The fish factory has moved further south, and people tell us the trend is increasingly towards factory ships, which process the fish as they’re caught.
Administration is the 2nd biggest employer. Ilulissat is the centre for a huge area around it, going right up to Quanaag in the far north. Tourism is the 3rd factor. It’s growing, but currently suffering from the world economic crisis. There are actually very few tourists in the town right now. The town still feels like boom-town, and the civil engineer tells me all the building work is the rush to build new houses for the growing population in the very short building season, before everything has to stop for the winter in October.
Ilulissat’s main attraction are the icebergs, floating in the fjord after breaking off from the Kangia glacier or Jakobshauen, which was the Danish name for it and the town. This is the most “productive” glacier in the northern hemisphere, discharging ice from the inland ice sheet into the sea at a tremendous rate. More about that later. The constantly changing panorama of icebergs of all different shapes and sizes creates the very special identity of Ilulissat.
The icefjord was added to UNESCO’S World Heritage List in 2004 because of its dramatic beauty and its unique glaciological characteristics. The organisation has now opened an office in the town that keeps an eye on it and supports measures to protect it – with a little help from friends like the volunteers brought here by a group called MS.
Lars from Germany and Martin from Switzerland are two of a group of 10 young people spending their summer holidays as volunteers here. They’ve helped organise a traditional music festival in one of the remote northern towns. Now they’re helping Naja Habermann, who runs the UNESCO office, to mark the hiking paths – like the one that took me along the ice fjord yesterday – which help people appreciate the natural beauty of the region without having too much of an impact on the countryside. These are the people who spend the day walking the paths and painting the markers. More power to you folks!
Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, “ms act!onaid denmark” is the ngo that brings them here, with its “global contact” programme. They come from a variety of European countries. When I asked them why they do it, Lars and Martin both told me they want to do something more meaningful than lie on a beach all summer, and they’re keen to get to know other peoples and cultures. They also see it as a unique opportunity to get to a remote region of the world they would otherwise fail to see. I asked them whether climate change was important to them, against the background of this glacier discharging icebergs at an increasing rate. While they both said this hadn’t been their reason for coming here, they are very concerned about what’s happening and feel strongly the industrialised west should reduce emissions and its footprint. Talking to young people in Greenland, they found it interesting to hear a different view here. Awareness of the problems is not so high – and some of the people they talked to were happy about being able to grow more food in southern Greenland.
Caroline (right) and Sisse are coordinating the project, both here on a voluntary basis. They’re committed to promoting intercultural dialogue and bringing young people from different backgrounds together to work on projects like protecting the world’s heritage.
“It’s a dog’s life” in Ilulissat. Sled dogs have enforced holidays at least until October.
DateJuly 30, 2009 | 11:18 am
Ilulissat: the best things in life are free
I have now arrived in Ilulissat, which means icebergs in the Greenlandic language. It’s not hard to see why, or why it’s UNESCO World Heritage. The beauty and uniqueness of the icebergs floating around so close made up for some initial problems with the operators who take lots of money to transport people to view the marvels of the site. Fortunately I chanced upon a wooden walkway leading on to a rough trail marked here and there with cairns and yellow dots, which leads over the rocks to the icefjord. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than watching the icebergs shift slowly and change colour in the light of the midnight sun.
DateJuly 28, 2009 | 11:39 pm