Greenpeace races to reach disintegrating glacier

Feature story - June 28, 2009
While Keisha Castle-Hughes tours the Pacific documenting climate impacts aboard the Esperanza, another of our ships, The Arctic Sunrise is currently heading north along the west coast of Greenland in a race against time. It's destination is the disintegrating Petermann Glacier, but to reach the glacier our ship must pass through the Nares Strait, which could be flooded with dangerous sea ice at any moment.

The melting and freezing of the now fragile Greenlandic ice creates the unique features and colours displayed in these photographs.

At the top of the Nares Strait is an ice bridge, which holds back the Arctic Sea ice. Should the ice bridge break, and it could do so at any time, a deluge of sea ice will make progress further north impossible.

The ship is heading to the glacier to bear witness to the accelerating polar melt, and to support the work of a team of independent scientists, who are researching why climate change is melting the ice faster than expected. The voyage to the Petermann Glacier is the first stage of a four leg tour during which we will:

  • Document the collapse of one of the world's largest glaciers
  • Investigate how changing ocean currents could be accelerating Greenland's melt
  • Voyage to the place where the polar bears will make their last stand
  • Sail in to the retreating ice edge to witness first hand the vanishing sea ice 

This expedition  will take us further north than any Greenpeace ship has ever sailed before. The team on board the Arctic Sunrise will be blogging their adventures and findings - follow their journey on our international climate weblog.

Or on Twitter at gparctic

You can see the action on the Arctic Sunrise Webcam

If the ship succeeds in reaching the Petermann Glacier, which is one of Greenland's largest and most northerly glaciers, the Arctic Sunrise team will document its ongoing disintegration. Satellite images show that an expanse larger than New York's Manhattan island is ready to break off from Petermann Glacier, and both the crew and scientists intend to be there to document this significant event.

As Dr. Jason Box, one of the scientists working with us says

"This is a chance to help us to better understand how Greenland's ice sheet and glaciers react to climate change, as well as the implications for global sea level rise. Travelling to Petermann Glacier is a rare opportunity to visit a remote, hard to reach location at the top of the world, and a chance to make observations usually well beyond the capabilities of conventional science". 

The melting arctic is just one of the undeniable signs that our climate is changing, and that the change is starting to run away out of control. The disappearance of the sea ice will destroy the entire arctic eco-system which depends on it, while the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet threatens to raise sea levels around the world by seven meters.

That would the start of catastrophic climate change, triggering mass starvation, mass extinction and mass migration.  The climate catastrophe could literally redraw the map of the world.

Greenpeace is in the Arctic to make sure that this warning sign cannot be ignored. At the end of this year world leaders must meet at the climate summit in Copenhagen to agree a deal to avert catastrophic climate change. It's essential that the treaty delivers the big emission cuts, forest protection and funding needed to help the developing world to deal with climate change. Tell them to do the right thing, by taking action below.

Sign our climate petition

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Support our work in the Arctic