Greenland’s Big Melt

Ice Sheets Turning to Water

Greenland, as seen from about 38,000 feet, is warming and melting, revealing mineral riches as the ice goes.

Barclay Brantingham

Greenland, as seen from about 38,000 feet, is warming and melting, revealing mineral riches as the ice goes.

Peering down on Greenland from an SAS jet recently, my eyes quickly began to hurt. The brilliant sun reflecting off the massive ice sheet was too much. I had to look away.

Then I looked back. All I could see was a huge whiteout. But down below a lot was going on. For one thing, the thick ice cap covering the largest island in the world (if you don’t count the continent of Australia) is melting faster than ever.

Beneath the top layers is snow that fell when Washington crossed the Delaware, scientists say. Greenland’s ice sheet is about two miles thick at the center, and if the current melting goes on long enough, Washington-era snow theoretically could be washing over what’s left of East Beach.

As Science magazine headlined it, “In Greenland the Great Melt Is On,” the island warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

But a lot more was going on below me that day than was visible to my eye. No doubt tourists on travel packages were prowling ($2,437 for a three-nighter). A 40-minute hike from downtown Ilulissat (population 4,866 and above the Arctic Circle) takes you to the fast-melting Jakobshavn glacier. Or you could go musk ox spotting. They’re apparently hard to find.

It was probably a bit nippy down there. This was midsummer, and the average high in July is about 50 degrees. In winter it can get down to -7, depending where you are. When they got back to town, they’d be ready for a shot of “Greenlandic” — coffee with a dash of whiskey, Kahlua, and Grand Marnier, topped with whipped cream. At night there are the Northern Lights for entertainment.

Meanwhile, there’s trouble in paradise. The Danish government, which runs the island, has been moving people from the traditional Inuit villages to the Danish-speaking towns. Things have gotten tense.

Worse, there’s been a wave of suicides by alienated teens. In a New Yorker story, Alastair Gee writes about a painful book by a 27-year-old woman, Niviaq Korneliussen, HOMO sapienne (2014). It’s a best seller there, about 2,000 copies in Greenlandic language and thousands more in Danish in Denmark. It is not for the easily shocked, judging from the review.

Greenland, like most of the rest of the world, is split up by political parties. Topic A, “Independence from Denmark,” is in process, but as the cliché goes, moving at glacial speed for some backers.

Another issue is development. Everyone there is well aware that with the melt, mineral-rich land is being exposed.

In global glacier melt, scientific world eyes are on the biggie: the West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s Amundsen Sea sector. A couple of years ago, a UC Irvine glaciologist published a paper contending that it had gone into “irreversible retreat.” If he was right, that would mean global sea levels eventually rising by four feet, according to a New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Gasped Mother Jones magazine: “This is what a holy shit moment for global warming looks like.”

So what’s the outlook for Santa Barbara? Well, in a recent piece in The Santa Barbara Independent, Talya Meyers wrote that according to one scenario, California coastal sea levels will rise by an estimated 12 inches by the year 2050 and 10 feet by the year 2100 — assuming that we continue curbing our carbon emissions. So much for East Beach BBQs. According to the story, we’re also affected by melting of the dreaded West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

The biggest meltdown, of course, is occurring in shameful President Trump’s brain and in his pathetic administration. Trump not only ignores global warming as a serious problem but his cabinet chiefs are doing their best to sabotage efforts among the states to clean up air pollution and combat warming.

On the other hand, California Governor Jerry Brown is showing leadership and plans to convene a major climate conference backing the Paris climate agreement.

Some airlines offer voluntary carbon offset programs where you can donate and fly greener. There are also websites for offset voluntary donations. I found one that looked good and sent in a donation. Think about it when you fly.

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