Greenland's ice meltdown / update

Greenland's ice meltdown quickens

By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Sunday, July 1, 2007

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland -- A slab of pale blue ice the size of a
semitrailer broke off the side of the Russell Glacier and splashed
into a rushing stream of meltwater some 100 feet below.

The thunderous sound of splintering ice was frightening enough,
especially after hearing a guide describe how a huge chunk of
plummeting glacier killed several tourists and injured dozens near
here with its icy shrapnel in the 1970s.

But the truly scary part was that we had witnessed another ominous
reminder that the ice sheet of Greenland is melting twice as fast as
it was just 10 years ago. The vast ice cap is up to 2 miles thick and
covers 80 percent of the world's largest island, which is three times
the size of Texas.

"The glaciers are disappearing and a lot of people say they want to
see the Greenland ice sheet before it's gone," said Kim Peterson, a
Danish glacier tour guide based here. He's watched the same section of
the Russell Glacier at the end of the Sonde Stromfjord gradually melt
over the past 22 years.

Peterson is keenly aware of a cruel irony: a recent spike in tourism
may portend the beginning of the end for an ancient way of life among
56,000 Greenlandic people scattered across the treeless and harsh
landscape. Inuit hunters, who rely on cold ocean temperatures and
extensive winter sea ice to stalk seals, whales and polar bears, may
soon come up empty-handed.

The Greenland ice sheet, second only to Antarctica in the volume of
water locked in its deep freeze, has been a barometer for researchers
measuring the effect of the world's growing consumption of coal, oil
and gas on heating up the planet.

What their instruments have confirmed is that the news out of
Greenland is bad -- and getting worse.

The National Science Foundation is funding a record number of research
projects in Greenland, with roughly 30 studies under way as part of
NSF's $400 million annual budget for polar research.

Climate change and global warming caused in part by increased
emissions from vehicles and industry are no longer open to debate, as
it had been somewhat in 1985, the last time a Times Union team visited
Greenland with the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing.

"There is broad consensus now that global warming is very real and
that it's accelerating," said Greg Huey, professor of atmospheric
chemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology who completed two months
of field work last week, his third trip to Greenland.

Huey is investigating high levels of NOx -- the same stew of nitrogen
oxide gases found in urban smog from New York City to Los Angeles --
that form near the snow's surface on sunny days across the Greenland
ice cap.

"We've measured much more NOx than anyone would have believed just a
few years ago," Huey said. "It's less than you'd find in rush-hour
Atlanta traffic on a summer day, but it's still alarming."

It's important to put the rise in temperatures and rates of glacial
melt in Greenland in context over millions of years of geologic time,
said Simon Stephenson, director of NSF's office of polar
programs. ..........s