On the Greenland Ice Sheet
I have been walking on the world’s 2nd largest ice sheet. It would take 30 days to cross it on foot and skis, and it’s almost 3 kilometres thick at its thickest point. It’s hard to imagine that much ice. And to imagine what it would mean for the world’s oceans if it melted. A disastrous 7m rise is the most common estimate, and views on whether or when that might happen vary widely. It’s a complex process, with a lot of uncertainty. But the Greenland ice cap is undoubtedly losing mass overall. And the IPCC predictions have been well overtaken by the current rate of global change.
I drove to the inland ice from Kangerlussaq in a four-wheel drive vehicle. The road was actually financed by the German car company Volkswagen. They decided around 1999 to build a test area for their vehicles on the ice, and this was the access road. (Seems surprising to get permission to build a car test track across the ice sheet in the national park, but there you are).VW stopped in 2005, so did maintenance it seems. Still, with that and the old US base, people have been telling me this area has the most roads in Greenland.
It’s a gravel and sandy track, but 2 hours take you out to the ice and there are spectacular views on the way.(Also muskox and reindeer, but that’s not our subject today).
This is a view on the approach.
It’s strange – the sudden contrast, how Greenland changes from being literally green to icy blue-white:
A wall of ice.
At the end of the track, we walked up the morane, gravel discarded by the ice, and down the other side to get onto the ice sheet. It’s now 40 metres lower than it was when the road was built.
Once on the ice sheet, it’s ice as far as the eye can see.
It’s no wonder this is becoming a tourist attraction, although the remoteness of northern Greenland and the trouble and expense of getting here make sure it’s not a destination for mass tourism. But all the guides and tourist people I’ve spoken to confirm that the talk about climate change is attracting more people.
Some say it’s just that people are becoming more aware of the beauties of the Arctic. One guide was convinced a lot of visitors want to see the ice before it dwindles or disappears. It would certainly take a lot to melt this one. But the process appears to be in motion.
DateJuly 28, 2009 | 10:41 am