State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Climate Irony Catches Greenland

Greenland’s majestic steep ice covered mountains (photo by P. Spector)

The Greenland spring 2012 Ice Bridge mission is mid-season, which means a shift in focus from monitoring sea ice in the Arctic Circle to assessing land ice along the Greenland perimeter and interior. The mission is to measure the impact of a changing climate in one of the most remote places on Earth – ironically, a place that seems poised to lose that remoteness.

Tri-State: On my way to Copenhagen, the first leg of my journey, the climate irony of taking off over the tri-state area is not lost on me. Below a sinewy dragon of light sparkles brilliant amber in the evening dusk, evidence of the density of population in this region, and a flickering reminder of the human appetite for energy. Light and energy, the pulsing arteries that drive our businesses and our homes. Looking down one can almost track the watts as they move. I wonder how watts translate to degrees in Farenheit or Celcius. Traveling from such developed density it is hard to imagine there is a connection between here and Greenland, and yet the connection is measurable in the steady changes occurring in the icy reaches of our poles.

Copenhagen: Hours later circling over Copenhagen I look down at a waterfront dotted with windmills. Clean, white, spinning briskly bringing wind energy… I wonder if windmills are more accepted here than back on the U.S. coastlines. Perhaps acceptance comes with being faced first hand with the impacts. Will they slow the impacts already being felt in these northern climes?

Greenland's glaciers
Greenland’s vast expanses of glaciers appear to extend to the ‘end of the Earth’ (photo by P. Spector)

Greenland: The last leg to Greenland is aboard Air Greenland, a plane painted an eye-catching red and white. The same red and white that graces the Erfalasorput, the name of the Greenlandic flag designed to symbolize the sun, the fjords, the sea and the ice. The transit places a magazine in my hands that boasts “Greenland a key player in global growth”. Fully 48 pages of stories and vignettes on companies and people who are making connections, developing skills, offering opportunity and making a difference for Greenland. Everything from oil exploration to mining strategic ‘rare Earths’, that small group of elements of critical importance to world industrial production, to building corporate social responsibility, to handling logistics and promoting responsible tourism can be found in this color spread. With the warming of the climate the resources of Greenland appear to have expanded in value. This is a Greenland poised to lose its remoteness.

Disko Bay waterfront
Will the ‘Future Greenland’ see this starkly beautiful Disko Bay waterfront dotted with colorful Greenlandic style houses? (photo by P. Spector)

One remarkable piece in this Greenland story catches my eye. “Future Geenland” a curated exhibition of how the explosion of opportunity facing Greenland may affect its future society and culture. What is so remarkable is the careful planning being considered in order to transition this once isolated country with its unique character and culture into the future…and the head curator is the Greenlandic geologist Minik Rosing. An odd choice one might imagine, yet Rosing spent his early youth on a caribou farm in a small southwestern fjord and has never separated from those roots. His research interests focus on how the geologic development of the Earth has been affected by the emergence of life. With a focus on the connection between resources and cultural development perhaps this is just a more modern, and more local rendition. All evidence points to Greenland’s vulnerable position between its cultural history and its future.  Who better to assist than one who connects his spirit to both this ancient culture and these ancient rocks with the resources they hold.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments