QAQORTOQ, Greenland -- -- On an inlet nestled between soaring cliffs, huge chunks of ice shimmer from a distance like precious stones on a cocktail ring.
The icebergs take on various formations — a swan, a whale, a ship, a floating island. Some are as white as the shaved ice on a snow cone. Others as glaring as Superman’s kryptonite. The thickest blocks look utterly alive with blue lines running through them like veins, the result of melting and refrozen crevices within the layers of ice that broke away from the glaciers that once covered the nearby cliffs.
Amidst the slow-moving icebergs, the sound of lapping water is interspersed with cracks and pops, similar to the noise that comes from pouring warm water over a frozen ice tray. Up close, one can hear the drip, drip, drip of melting ice. As the sun gets hotter, the drips become a trickle, then a steady flow like rain pouring through a gutter after a heavy storm.
This is a snapshot of climate change.
The melting is taking place thousands of miles away, but its effects can be felt in South Florida in the form of rising sea levels. According to recent studies, the sea level has risen nine inches since the 1920s and if the sea-rise trend continues to accelerate — as some predict — parts of the state could eventually be submerged under water.
As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots strategize about how to respond to climate change, researchers from the National Science Foundation, universities and global organizations flock to Greenland in search of answers.
“There isn’t really a debate as to whether or not global climate change is a thing. What the issue is, is what is causing it?,” said Carli Arendt, a Phd student at the University of Michigan’s Glario Chemistry and Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory (GIGL), who was in Greenland earlier this summer to collect water samples. “We’re just trying to, strictly for the science, figure out how things are melting and at the rate that they’re melting at.”
“We’re adding to the raw data to try to reduce speculation,” added fellow researcher Emily Stevenson. “Many people know what happens on top of the glacier by satellite imagery and things like that but not many people know what goes on underneath.”
“The different elements that get washed from under the glacier into the ocean can change the amount of nutrients, which can affect the primary producers and then all the different animals and fish that feed off them,” Stevenson said. “And the worry is that with the receding glaciers in Greenland, all these elements are being released into the seawater. It’s changing the local ecosystems.”
Greenlanders can attest to the effects.
“When you’ve been living here a long time, you really notice the change,’’ said singer Nive Nielsen, 34. “There’s a huge difference from when I was a child. We used to have so much snow we could pretty much sink in it when we jumped off bridges and stuff. Games we would play when we were kids seem impossible now.
“Even hunters or people who live off the land, they’re often out and then they’ll point at stuff and tell me where there used to be a huge glacier and it’s all gone,” Nielsen said. “It’s crazy how much it’s changed.”