Greenland – coal mine canary

People in Greenland are increasingly starting their sentences with “in the days when it was cold”; even though those “old days” were less than a decade ago.

Greenland is gaining a lot of publicity lately as being somewhat of global warming coal mine canary – it’s a country where climate change is having a very rapid, noticeable impact and serves as an early warning system for the rest of us.

The average winter temperatures in Greenland have risen nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit from 1991 to 2003. The warmer temperatures are literally reshaping the landscape and distribution of plants and animals. Some species of fish are reappearing, others disappearing. Animals can be grazed longer and more ice-free land is starting to appear for increased periods.

Some Greenlanders welcome the increased temperatures with open arms, but others understand that the benefits of having a warmer country may only be very short lived.

Greenland’s ice mass accounts for around 8% of the Earth’s total grounded ice, with Antartica possessing around 91%. That 8%, should it melt, is enough to raise global sea levels by an incredible 23 feet. Even a rise of just a few more feet would be enough to threaten low lying nations and millions of people. Scientists are continually revising their predictions for sea level increases, usually upwards, partly due to the rapid melting of Greenland that has exceeded expectations.

Glacial earthquakes, which are caused by the seaward movements of glaciers have more than doubled in number since 2002 and the amount of ice being dumped into the ocean from the Greenland Ice Sheet doubled between 2001 and 2006.

The Greenlanders themselves are not responsible for these phenomena – they have a tiny population; it’s the entire carbon spewing world that’s to blame. We’ll undoubtedly be hearing a lot more of this ice-bound nation of 56,000 people in the years ahead; but for all the wrong reasons.

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