Impossible colors

by Guest Blogger

July 28, 2005

We are sailing back down Sermilik fjord, passing hundreds of icebergs –

some of them real giants. By all rights, we should be pretty jaded by

now, having spent the past weeks staring at icebergs, glaciers and sea

ice, but every now and then you still see something that knocks your

socks off.

News of today’s prize find spread rapidly through the ship.

An iceberg made up of the kind of colors you only see in places like

these; colors that are impossible to perfectly describe or reproduce.

Even now, 9:30 at night and hours later, we’re still arguing about what

color you would call this iceberg. Personally, I’d say it was, “a very

unusual shade of aquamarine”.

Part of the reason icebergs are so fascinating is that each is unique,

drifting, and ever changing as they melt. They calve off the glaciers

that feed into this fjord, many of which are fed in turn by the

Greenland ice sheet. So here you have ice, thousands of years old,

making it’s way out to sea. Some ice sheet fed glaciers in this part of

Greenland are speeding up, and disintegrating, resulting in more ice

being dumped into the fjords.

All of this (admittedly very pretty) floating glacier ice does not only

add to sea level rise. It also dilutes the ocean, making it less salty

– a difference you can taste in the fjord water here. Thermohaline

(thermo = heat, haline = salt) ocean currents circulate water from the

tropics up the coast of Europe – keeping its winters more mild than

otherwise. The fear is that as more fresh water drains into the Arctic

Ocean, it will weaken or shut down the “pump” powering this current.

So, in a seeming paradox, global warming could lead to a regional

cooling of northern Europe, with major implications for everything from

agriculture to summer swimming.

– Andrew

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