Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On Greenland's thinning ice

The world’s most prolific glacier slides into the sea at a rate of 40 meters per day … more than 120 feet. Yet the huge ice chunks that split from it can’t move far; the mouth of the fjord is shallow, only about 200 meters deep, and the bergs back up like cars waiting to get through the Golden Glades Interchange. Rush hour lasts for months.

The result is an ice jam of Matterhorns and Space Mountains, amphitheaters and Gibraltar Rocks, Soviet apartment blocks … all curved and swept and carved and etched into ice. It all sits just outside the town of Ilulissat … which is why 20,000 of the 30,000 visitors (including us!) to Greenland this year will come here.

You can actually hike to part of the ice wall. The view is staggering … or so you will think, until you sail along the 3.5 miles of frozen edge in a small boat.

No cruise ship view in Alaska comes close to this majesty. And it’s all the more inspiring because you know it may not last.

Just 25 years ago, the bergs were a good 20 meters higher, says Frederike Bronny, the naturalist on board our Fram sailing. She was here then, as she has been in most of the years since. Today the highest bergs reach to about 80 meters – yes, that’s more than 260 feet – but then, the highest bergs were 20 meters higher, or about 325 feet.

Part of this is natural cycle. But scientists agree that human activity is a significant contributor to the climate change.

The glacier itself is receding quickly, and one estimate suggests that within 10 years the glacier will no longer reach the sea, which means that the huge icebergs will be gone.

That might have been welcome news for the passengers aboard the Titanic. It is thought that the iceberg they struck came from Ilulissat’s Kangia Glacier via the Labrador Current.

But the meltdown is bad news for Floridians. Scientists differ on exactly how fast they expect the seas to rise; for now, the Greenland icecap remains a stable 3 kilometers deep. But when it melts, a lot of landlocked South Floridians will have oceanfront property. That’s likely to take a few hundred years … but still, maybe we should trade in our gas guzzlers for hybrids ASAP.


More on melting glaciers: See the June 2007 issue of National Geographic
More on this cruise: Norwegian Coastal Voyage / Hurtigruten
More on cruising: Cruise Critic
More on travel: The Miami Herald's travel page

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Jane,

Charlotte from the FRAM is speaking. You did a good job the
way you informed about the Greenland journey.
I have wonderful pictures - for all my life - you`re right.
Hope, we are able to see this nice real world for many of years...
Yes, all over the world people - specially the head of the USA and China have to do s. th. to invoid catastrophes ASAP. Angelika Merkel is visiting Greenland just at the moment. Hope, that she will remember this trip at her work in the following years. Hope for the nature and the next generation all over the world.
Nice to meet and hear you.
All the best!