By JAN M. OLSEN, Associated Press Writer
Watching the gargantuan chunks of ice break off the Sermeq Kujalleq
glacier and thunder into an Arctic fjord is a spectacular sight.
To Greenland's Inuit population, it is also deeply worrisome. The
frequency and size of the crumbling blocks are a powerful reminder
that the ice sheet covering the world's largest island is thinning,
which scientists say is one of the most glaring examples of global
"In the past we could walk on the ice in the fjord between the
icebergs for a six-month period during the winter, drill holes and
fish," said Joern Kristensen, a local fisherman. "We can only do that
for a month or two now. It has become more difficult to drive dogs
sleds because the ice between the icebergs isn't solid anymore."
In 2002-2003, a six-mile stretch of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier broke
off and drifted silently out of the fjord near Ilulissat, Greenland's
third largest town, 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Although Greenland is the prime example, scientists say the effects of
climate change are noticeable throughout the Arctic region, from the
northward spread of spruce beetles in Canada to melting permafrost in
Alaska and northern Russia.
Indigenous people who for centuries have adapted their lives to the
cold, fear that the changes, however small and gradual, could have a
"We can see a trend that the fall is getting longer and wetter," said
Lars-Anders Baer, a political leader for Sweden's indigenous Sami, a
once-nomadic people with a long tradition of reindeer herding.
"If the climate gets warmer, it is probably bad for the reindeer. New
species (of plants) come in and suffocate other plants that are the
main food for the reindeer," he said.
Rising temperatures are also a concern in the Yamalo-Nenets region in
Western Siberia, said Alexandr Navyukhov, 49. He is an ethnic nenet, a
group that mostly lives off hunting, fishing and deer breeding.
"We now have breams in our river, which we didn't have in the past
because that fish is typical for warmer regions," he said. "On the one
hand it may look like good news, but breams are predatory fish that
prey upon fish eggs, often of rare kinds of fish."
Melting permafrost has damaged hundreds of buildings, railway lines,
airport runways and gas pipelines in Russia, according to the Arctic
Climate Impact Assessment, a report commissioned by the Arctic Council
and released in 2004.
Research has also shown that populations of turbot, Atlantic cod and
snow crab are no longer found in some parts of the Bering Sea, an
important fishing zone between Alaska and Russia, and that flooding
along the Lena River, one of Siberia's biggest, has increased with
In Greenland, Anthon Utuaq, a 68-year-old retired hunter, said he is
worried a warmer climate will make it more difficult for his son to
continue the family trade.
"Maybe it will be difficult for him to find the seals," Utuaq said,
resting on a bench in the east coast town of Kulusuk. "They will head
north to colder places if it gets warmer."
Arctic sea ice has decreased by approximately 8 percent, or 386,100
square miles over the past 30 years.
In Sisimiut, Greenland's second-largest town, lakes have doubled in
size in the last decade.
"Greenland was perceived as this huge solid place that would never
melt," said Robert Corell of the American Meteorological Society. "The
evidence is now so strong that the scientific community is convinced
that global warming is the cause."
Climate change has been a hotly discussed issue for decades, but
efforts to fight it have moved slowly. There is not even unanimity on
how much of the problem is a result of human activity, notably the
burning of fossil fuels, and how much of it can be attributed to
"We know that temperatures have gone up and it's partly caused by
man. But let's hold our horses because it's not everywhere that the
ice is melting. In the Antarctic, only 1 percent is melting," said
Bjoern Lomborg, a Danish researcher who claims the threat of global
warming has been exaggerated.
What is clear is that the average ocean temperature off Greenland's
west coast has risen in recent years -- from 38.3 F to 40.6 F and
glaciers have begun to retreat, said Carl Egede Boeggild, a
glaciologist with Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, a
The Sermilik glacier in southern Greenland has retreated 6.84 miles,
and the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier near Ilulissat also is moving at a
faster pace, said Henrik Hoejmark Thomsen of the geological survey.
In 1967, satellite imagery measured it moving at 4.3 miles per
year. In 2003, it was twice that -- 8.1 miles per year.
"What exactly happened, we don't know but it appears to be the effect
of climate change," said Hoejmark Thomsen.
Last month, U.S. scientists issued a report saying the rate of ice
melting in the Arctic is increasing and within a century could lead to
summertime ice-free ocean conditions not seen in the area in a million
years, but they also note that the United States will not participate
in efforts to stem the global warming.
With warmer temperatures, some bacteria, plants and animals could
disappear, while others will grow and thrive. Polar bears and other
animals that depend on sea ice to breed and forage are at risk,
scientists say. There are fears that polar bears and some seal species
could face extinction in just decades because of global warming.
The thinning of the sea ice presents a danger to both humans and polar
bears, said Peter Ewins, director of Arctic conservations for the
World Wildlife Fund Canada.
"The polar bears need to be there to catch enough seals to see them
through the summer in open warm water systems. Equally, the Inuit need
to be out there on the ice catching seals and are less and less able
to do that because the ice is more unstable, thinner," he said.
When NASA started taking satellite images of the Arctic region in the
late 1970s and computer technology improved, scientists noted alarming
patterns and theorized they were caused by the emission of so-called
greenhouse gases, emitted by industries and internal combustion
engines, that create a heat-trapping layer in the atmosphere.
Inuit leaders, like Sheila Watt-Cloutier whose efforts won her the
2005 Sophie environment prize in Norway earlier this year, are trying
to draw attention to the impact of climate change and pollution on the
traditional lifestyles of the Arctic's indigenous people.
"When I was a child, the weather used to be more stable, it worries me
to see and hear all this," Greenland Premier Hans Enoksen said on the
sidelines of an environmental officials' meeting in Ilulissat last
month. The meeting ended with statements of concern, sincere calls for
measure to address the problem -- and no action.
The Kyoto Protocol that took effect in February aims to reduce global
greenhouse gas emissions. But the 140 nations that have signed the
pact don't include the United States, which itself is one of teh
biggest producers -- one-quarter -- of the gases.
U.S. President George W. Bush's administration claims that participa-
ting in the pact would severely damage the U.S. economy. Many
scientists say that position undermines the whole planet and they
point to Greenland as the leading edge of what the globe could suffer.
Some have suggested perhaps the U.S. economy needs to be changed.
"Greenland is the canary in a mine shaft alerting us," said Corell,
the American meteorologist. "In the U.S., global warming is a tomorrow
issue. ... For us working here, it hits you like a ton of bricks when
you see it."
AP writers Maria Danilova and Jim Heintz in Moscow, Karl Ritter in
Stockholm, Sweden, and Beth Duff-Brown in Toronto contributed to this
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new
More news from AP online at http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/newstoday.html