The crew of the Arctic Sunrise in Greenland. The Arctic Sunrise reached 'the ice bridge' in the Robeson channel, at 82.4 North, near the border between Greenland and Canada.
For the past two weeks, scientists and crew from the Arctic
Sunrise have been busy
gathering data, collecting samples and setting up cameras to
record the break-up of the Petermann glacier, one of Greenland's
largest. A large crack has been forming for the past few years, and
a massive piece of the glacier is expected to break off soon.
50 cubic meters per second
At 82 degrees North, far from any inhabited area, the impact we
have on our environment is sadly evident. The data gathered so far
by the on-board scientists is grim. 27 kilometers away from the
sea, on the glacier, a large river has formed. The scientists
estimate it runs at 50 cubic meters per second - you could fill an
Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than a minute at that rate.
This river feeds a large and deep melting whirlpool. Measurements
there have shown that at around 60 meters depth, the salinity of
the water rises - indicating that warm ocean currents from further
south in the Atlantic are accelerating the ice melt at a rate much
faster than on the surface.
Last year, a 37 kilometer square ice island broke off. This
year, the far end of the glacier has
already broken away, but much more is expected.
When this new ice island escapes and slips out to sea, it means
that more of the 'grounded' or land-based part of the glacier could
slip into the sea water and become part of the floating tongue -
the end of the glacier that lies on the sea. This has implications
for both global sea level rise, as well for the Greenland ice sheet
itself, best explained by the 'champagne cork' analogy- if the
deterioration of Greenland's glaciers continues, it could open the
way for a larger release of frozen fresh water, from the vast ice
sheet that covers most of Greenland, into the ocean - thereby
contributing to a major rise in sea levels.
Polar bears, seals, icebergs, are all marks of a unique
environment endangered by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. As
climate conditions change in the North, it also means life gets a
lot harder for the local Inuit population. Their lifestyle and food
sources are extremely dependent on the presence of ice. As the
species they normally hunt migrate further North, they cannot hunt
anymore. The Arctic environment is
extremely sensitive to changes.
Ice free Arctic
Bad news is coming from other sources as well. A recent
NASA study has shown that the ice cap is not only getting
smaller, it's getting thinner and younger. Sea ice has dramatically
thinned between 2004 and 2008. Old ice (over 2 years old) takes
longer to melt, and is also much harder to replace. As permanent
ice decreases, we are looking at ice-free summers in the Arctic as
early as 2030.
They say you can't be too thin or too young, but this
unfortunately doesn't apply to the Arctic sea ice. Polar bears are
the first to suffer from it, but many other species could be
affected as well.
Action, not words
World leaders have committed to limit global temperature rise
below 2 degrees at the recent G8 meeting, but have not indicated
how we will achieve this. Strong emission cuts are needed if we
want to prevent runaway global warming.
UPDATE August 20, 2009: The phrase
"ice-free summers" in the article above was cited innaccurately on
BBC's HardTalk as suggesting the complete loss of land ice as well
as sea ice from the Arctic. The phrase is used, exactly as it is
in the NASA report from which it is taken, to refer to ice-free
Click here for further clarification.
Ask world leaders to personally attend the Copenhagen summit and agree to strong emission cuts.
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