Tag Archives: greenland

Here’s why Iceland is mourning a dead glacier

Some 100 people gathered at the top of a volcano in Iceland on Sunday for an unusual funeral. The victim: A 700-year-old, six-mile glacier. Cause of death: climate change.

The Okjokull glacier actually died a decade ago. But Iceland decided to hold the funeral for the deceased ice mass — it’s first to go extinct from rising temperatures — last weekend amid warnings from the scientific community that hundreds of other glaciers across the sub-Arctic country could soon disappear. Iceland is projected to be entirely glacier-free within 200 years.

A plaque at the site of the vanished glacier, installed with a drill and assistance from some of the children in attendance, reads: “This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” Henceforth the glacier will be known as just “Ok”; the Icelandic word for glacier, “jokull,” no longer applies.

An ice-free Iceland represents more than just an identity crisis for Icelanders. If global leaders don’t take action to slow rising temperatures, the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet alone could raise sea-levels more than five feet in the next 200 years. Enormous quantities of methane slumbering in the Arctic permafrost are threatening to come alive as record temperatures fry the top of our planet. Two fast-melting glaciers in Antarctica are holding back enough sea ice to flood oceans with another 11 feet of water.

The symbolic funeral took place three days before a meeting in Reykjavik between Iceland’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, other Nordic leaders, and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Jakobsdóttir said she aims to make addressing the climate crisis a priority at that meeting. “We see the consequences of the climate crisis,” she told the group of mourners. “We have no time to lose.”

Iceland may be the first country to hold a funeral for a dead glacier, but it’s not the first to mourn a natural wonder under assault by global warming. Australia is grappling with the slow death of its Great Barrier Reef, three islands have disappeared into the rising sea in the past year, and the United States is on the cusp of losing many of its cultural sites, like Jamestown, to rising tides.

And the death count is bound to rise as we make our way deeper into this century. Are we prepared to hold a funeral for, say, Miami? By 2070, the city’s streets will flood every single day (whether South Beach real estate agents realize it or not). If world leaders can’t get rampant emissions under control, we’d all better start getting used to living in a world that is just “Ok.”


Here’s why Iceland is mourning a dead glacier

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Greenland’s moment in the sun goes beyond Trump’s real estate interests

Greenland is sooo hot right now. And we’re not just talking literally (though, yeah, that’s also true). In the last week, the gigantic Arctic island has been the focus of several news stories. Here’s a quick round-up of why Greenland is blowing up your Twitter feed:

#1: President Trump expressed interest in buying Greenland

Let’s start with the most bizarre story. According to a story from the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, President Donald Trump repeatedly asked his top aides “with varying degrees of seriousness” how he could buy Greenland. Like, literally buy it.

“It has to be an April Fool’s joke,” the island’s former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen tweeted. “Totally out of season.”

FYI Greenland is currently a self-ruling part of Denmark, which controls the region’s foreign and security policy. Still, the president somehow thinks that buying 836,300 square miles of fjord-riddled tundra floating in the middle of the North Atlantic could be feasible since “Denmark was having financial trouble over its assistance to Greenland.”

In case you’re wondering, “Um, why would he do that?” it’s not necessarily because the president is eyeing the island as the next Trump Towers location. After all, 80 percent of Greenland is covered by an ice sheet, and the population is estimated at less than 60,000. But the island is considered to be rich in valuable minerals, which may be easier to access as its vast ice sheets melt.

Of course, there are some major issues with this plan. For one thing, Greenland is not looking for a buyer. In response to Trump’s alleged interest in purchasing the island, officials politely told the president, Thanks, but no thanks.

”We have a good cooperation with [the] USA, and we see it as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer,” the government of Greenland said in a short statement. “Of course, Greenland is not for sale.”

#2: Greenland is melting

For decades, the Arctic has been galloping toward a more perturbed state butt they seem to have reached a fever pitch this summer. Greenland’s ice sheet just had its biggest daily melt event ever recorded. That resulting rise in sea level is, you know, bad news for all us coastal peeps.

The story received a lot of attention after sobering images of Greenland’s melting glaciers flooded the internet. According to the Associated Press, a team of NASA scientists is flying over Greenland to further understand why this is happening. Greenlanders, on the other hand, have a pretty good idea of what to blame (see next story).

#3: Greenlanders are convinced of climate change

Greenlanders are not snoozing on global warming. According to the first-ever national survey examining the human impact of the climate emergency, dubbed Greenlandic Perspectives on Climate Change, 92 percent of people in Greenland believe climate change is happening.

As for the 8 percent of respondents who didn’t answer in the affirmative? Only 1 percent actually said they didn’t believe in climate change, and around 6 percent said they didn’t know.

More than three-quarters of Greenlanders surveyed said they’ve felt the effects of climate change, with many expressing concerns about everything from its impact on sled dogs to food security.

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Greenland’s moment in the sun goes beyond Trump’s real estate interests

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The Ice at the End of the World – Jon Gertner


The Ice at the End of the World

An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future

Jon Gertner

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $13.99

Publish Date: June 11, 2019

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

A riveting, urgent account of the explorers and scientists racing to understand the rapidly melting ice sheet in Greenland, a dramatic harbinger of climate change “Jon Gertner takes readers to spots few journalists or even explorers have visited. The result is a gripping and important book.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of  The Sixth Extinction Greenland: a remote, mysterious island five times the size of California but with a population of just 56,000. The ice sheet that covers it is 700 miles wide and 1,500 miles long, and is composed of nearly three quadrillion tons of ice. For the last 150 years, explorers and scientists have sought to understand Greenland—at first hoping that it would serve as a gateway to the North Pole, and later coming to realize that it contained essential information about our climate. Locked within this vast and frozen white desert are some of the most profound secrets about our planet and its future. Greenland’s ice doesn’t just tell us where we’ve been. More urgently, it tells us where we’re headed. In The Ice at the End of the World, Jon Gertner explains how Greenland has evolved from one of earth’s last frontiers to its largest scientific laboratory. The history of Greenland’s ice begins with the explorers who arrived here at the turn of the twentieth century—first on foot, then on skis, then on crude, motorized sleds—and embarked on grueling expeditions that took as long as a year and often ended in frostbitten tragedy. Their original goal was simple: to conquer Greenland’s seemingly infinite interior. Yet their efforts eventually gave way to scientists who built lonely encampments out on the ice and began drilling—one mile, two miles down. Their aim was to pull up ice cores that could reveal the deepest mysteries of earth’s past, going back hundreds of thousands of years. Today, scientists from all over the world are deploying every technological tool available to uncover the secrets of this frozen island before it’s too late. As Greenland’s ice melts and runs off into the sea, it not only threatens to affect hundreds of millions of people who live in coastal areas. It will also have drastic effects on ocean currents, weather systems, economies, and migration patterns. Gertner chronicles the unfathomable hardships, amazing discoveries, and scientific achievements of the Arctic’s explorers and researchers with a transporting, deeply intelligent style—and a keen sense of what this work means for the rest of us. The melting ice sheet in Greenland is, in a way, an analog for time. It contains the past. It reflects the present. It can also tell us how much time we might have left.

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The Ice at the End of the World – Jon Gertner

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Liquid Rules – Mark Miodownik


Liquid Rules

The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives

Mark Miodownik

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $14.99

Expected Publish Date: February 19, 2019

Publisher: HMH Books

Seller: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Sometimes explosive, often delicious, occasionally poisonous, but always interesting: the New York Times- bestselling author of Stuff Matters shows us the secret lives of liquids: the shadow counterpart of our solid “stuff.” We all know that without water we couldn’t survive, and that sometimes a cup of coffee or a glass of wine feels just as vital. But do we really understand how much we rely on liquids, or the destructive power they hold?   Set over the course of a flight from London to San Francisco, Liquid Rules offers readers a fascinating tour of these formless substances, told through the language of molecules, droplets, heartbeats, and ocean waves. Throughout the trip, we encounter fluids within the plane—from a seemingly ordinary cup of tea to a liquid crystal display screen—and without, in the volcanoes of Iceland, the frozen expanse of Greenland, and the marvelous California coastline. We come to see liquids as substances of wonder and fascination, and to understand their potential for death and destruction. Just as in Stuff Matters, Mark Miodownik’s unique brand of scientific storytelling brings liquids and their mysterious properties to life in a captivating new way.


Liquid Rules – Mark Miodownik

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Minnesota winters ain’t what they used to be

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A rare Arctic blast is set to freeze a vast 12-state swath of the Midwest, from the Dakotas to Ohio. Wind chills well below -40 degrees F, like those expected this week, are cold enough to cause frostbite in minutes. Chicago is set to have its coldest day in decades; “the coldest air many of us have ever experienced,” according to the National Weather Service. Even schools in hardy Minnesota are closing due to the cold.

As brutal as that weather sounds, it’s a point of pride for locals — and this kind of cold is becoming rarer as the climate warms. In Minnesota, one of the fastest warming states in the country, winters are warming at a rate 13 times faster than summers, according to new research from the University of Minnesota. Extreme cold days are virtually ending in some parts of the state.

Grand Rapids is the heart of the coldest part of Minnesota, and one of the coldest inhabited places in the continental United States. From 1950 to 2000, there were 45 days with actual temperatures below -35 degrees F. This century, there have only been two. Wednesday could be the third.

In Minneapolis, Wednesday’s forecasted low temperature of -28 degrees F doesn’t even rank among the city’s top 10 historical all-time lows. And the bulk of this month was much warmer than normal, so even with these few days of cold weather, January 2019 will likely rank warmer than the long-term average.

And, of course, this isn’t just a Minnesota thing: Hundreds of millions of people will lose access to frozen lakes in the northern hemisphere in the coming decades, according to a new study, impacting everything from the availability of freshwater to core aspects of cultural identities.

In this context, this week’s Midwest cold snap isn’t historic — it’s just a glimpse of past winters. As a Minnesota transplant, I was ready for cold weather when I moved here. What I wasn’t ready for was how deep Minnesota natives’ reverence of the cold goes.

On Sunday night, as the National Weather Service issued a warning for 8 to 10 inches of snow and wind chills approaching -60 degrees F (colder than the top of the Greenland ice sheet), I put out a call to my neighbors for their favorite stories of winters past. The responses were almost poetic.

This winter-worship is acted out in person at The Great Northern, an annual outdoor festival of snow sculptures, pond hockey, and sledding in the Twin Cities. And this weekend, temperatures there are set to soar back into the mid-40s, putting frozen activities in jeopardy.

Young people in Minnesota are growing up with a state that’s vastly different than even their parents’ youth, when it comes to having truly cold winters. Earlier this month, a group of about 100 youth held a meeting with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to demand a Green New Deal, in part based on their desire to preserve the region’s cultural traditions. The cold snap is a window into what makes Minnesota Minnesota — and what we could lose under unchecked climate change.

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Minnesota winters ain’t what they used to be

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Welcome to the Eocene, where ice sheets turn into swamps

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Our current rate of warming will quickly lead us back to a climate that predates the evolution of modern humans, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That kind of rapid change has no direct comparison in all of Earth’s multi-billion year history.

“The only thing that comes to mind is a meteorite impact,” says co-author Jack Williams, a paleoecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The researchers analyzed the current, near-past, and near-future climates for every part of the planet, and then compared them to what likely existed during similar warming periods of the distant past. The results were shocking, even to Williams.

“We are creating a geological-scale climate event,” Williams says. “These things don’t happen that often, and we don’t know how humans will do through it.”

Without rapidly reducing emissions, we’ll quickly go back to a climate similar to somewhere between the Pliocene and Eocene — geological epochs that occurred about 3 million, and about 56 million years ago, respectively. Both would have hellish consequences and likely reshape human civilization permanently.

During the Pliocene period, global temperatures were about 2-4 degrees Celsius warmer than today and sea levels eventually stabilized about 60 feet higher than current levels. It was a world largely inconsistent with natural ice formation.

By 2030, under a business-as-usual scenario, Pliocene-like conditions become the closest match for most land areas, according to the study. Under a moderate climate action scenario, like the lax pledges of the Paris Agreement, that could be extended out to 2040. Only a drastic, economy-wide makeover within the next decade, consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, would avoid the transition.

“This is coming up pretty fast,” Williams says.

An even more worrying period in Earth history was the Eocene, about 56 million years ago. The warmest part of this period — the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum — lasted around 200,000 years and was one of the warmest times in Earth history. The 8 degrees C-warmed world triggered a deep-sea mass extinction event and rainstorms so intense they scoured away the land surface at a continent scale. Humans are currently releasing carbon into the atmosphere at approximately 50 times the rate of the volcanic eruptions that led to the Eocene warm period.

According to Williams and his team, the Earth could tip toward Eocene-like conditions in just 120 years, based on current emissions trajectories. Millennials’ grandchildren would likely still be alive. Over the long haul, such conditions would be consistent with Greenland transforming from a mile-thick ice sheet to a marshy swamp, similar to Louisiana or Florida.

In 250 years from now on our current path, about 9 percent of the Earth’s land surface — mostly in East and Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and the coasts of the Americas — would transform into climates beyond the Eocene with no known precedent in all of Earth history, at least since life first formed.

But with rapid, near-term emissions reductions, those kinds of unprecedented and unknown climates can be almost entirely avoided, Williams says. Understanding the urgency and the scale of the choices currently facing humanity requires “balancing hope and despair,” he says.

“We’ve been talking about these challenges for years and there’s not been much measurable progress in stabilizing our greenhouse emissions,” Williams says. “We’ve built our cities and our societies for the current climate.” As a scientist and a concerned citizen, he said that observing the nations of the world not taking urgent action is like watching “a slow-motion train wreck.”

The challenge, according to Williams, is that “our options narrow as time goes forward.” The longer we wait to institute radical changes in society, the more likely the climate will become radically and irreversibly different, during the lifetimes of people alive today.

Talking about the choice we currently face as a civilization is perhaps the most important thing that any of us can do. The choice between a liveable world and a world completely unknown in all of Earth history, as Williams and his colleagues uncovered, is one of the starkest talking points yet.

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Welcome to the Eocene, where ice sheets turn into swamps

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Relax, The Day After Tomorrow isn’t going to happen, like, tomorrow

Back in 2004, the blockbuster disaster film The Day After Tomorrow introduced the world to the important role that the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation might play in kicking climate change into overdrive. The ocean’s heat-transport system collapses in the movie, unleashing a tidal wave on New York City, spawning continent-sized superstorms, and freezing much of the Northern Hemisphere.

More than a decade later, mainstream science is still fighting the popular perception that abrupt climate change might just happen one afternoon — a ridiculous notion that skews our perception of the massive real-world consequences climate change is already bringing.

Problem is, there’s a thread of truth to that movie’s skewed premise: We know the Atlantic’s circulation is slowing down. And we know it’s expected to slow down in the future because of climate change. But the evidence of a catastrophic collapse anytime soon remains extremely tenuous.

This week, two teams of researchers published new evidence in the journal Nature that the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation is now at its weakest in at least the past 1,600 years.

Taken at face value, this news is troubling. If the Atlantic’s circulation continues to slow dramatically, it would mean changes in European weather, drought in central and west Africa, fluctuations in hurricane frequency, and sharp rises in sea level on the east coast of the United States as ocean water from the wind-driven Gulf Stream current piled up without an escape route.

Dig further, however, and you’ll find that there are reasons not to lose too much sleep over a looming ocean-triggered apocalypse.

The initial wave of news coverage this time around has been predictably dire, even for jaded journalists routinely confronted with the possibility of climate-induced civilizational collapse.

Take this line from the Washington Post’s coverage: “The Atlantic Ocean circulation that carries warmth into the Northern Hemisphere’s high latitudes is slowing down because of climate change, a team of scientists asserted Wednesday, suggesting one of the most feared consequences is already coming to pass.” Others went further: “Gulf Stream current at ‘record low’ with potentially devastating consequences for weather, warn scientists,” read a headline in The Independent.

Deep breaths, people. The truth isn’t quite so scary.

For starters, these results aren’t especially new. Similar work in 2015 showed largely the same thing — a slowdown coinciding with the rise of industrial civilization. Sure enough, a persistent cool spot has started to appear over the North Atlantic in recent years, just south of Greenland, exactly where we’d expect one if a slowdown was underway.

In phone and email conversations with Grist, the lead authors of both papers as well as outside experts strongly cautioned against making too much of the new research.

“I would not call it a global catastrophe,” says Levke Caesar, a physicist at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and lead author of the first paper.

David Thornalley, a geographer at University College London and lead author of the second paper, mostly agrees. He says the best data available suggests that most likely the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation will gradually weaken over the next century. While that doesn’t rule out a collapse scenario, he says, “We don’t know how close we are to a tipping point.”

Other experts who study the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the scientific name for this phenomenon, say that recent news coverage has twisted their colleagues’ work out of context.

Isabela Astiz Le Bras, a physical oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, says that direct measurements of the AMOC taken over the past 20 years “do not reflect the reported trends” that media coverage has latched on to. That’s partly because the new papers rely on indirect approximations, or proxies, of the AMOC.

“It seems like the uncertainty has been underplayed in the media, and the implications blown out of proportion, which is unfortunate,” Le Bras says.

Martha Buckley, an oceanographer at George Mason University, goes even further. She disputes the claim that the circulation has slowed down primarily as a result of climate change, mostly because there just isn’t enough evidence yet.

“I do not believe the framing of this research as a global catastrophe is supported by the science,” she says. “Furthermore, I believe it detracts from the imminent and certain impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, more heat waves, melting of ice, and ocean acidification.”

Setting aside possible human influence, the strength of the AMOC varies a lot naturally. David Smeed, an oceanographer at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, United Kingdom, is the principal investigator for the leading effort to directly measure the AMOC, which he and his colleagues began in 2004.

“From our measurements that we make, so far what we’ve observed is consistent with natural variability,” Smeed says. “To detect an anthropogenic change, when we compare with the climate models, we realize that we need to measure a lot longer before we’d be able to detect that signal.”

At an international scientific meeting this summer, researchers will present their latest results and hash out their differences.

There is evidence that a sudden slowdown has happened before, about 30,000 years ago, an era defined by stronger storms and sudden sea-level rise. Another collapse would take years — not hours as in The Day After Tomorrow — and Buckley says not a single model predicts this scenario for this century without invoking simultaneous collapses in other climate systems, like the Greenland ice sheet.

But precisely because the AMOC has collapsed relatively quickly before, Thornally says, it’s worth worrying about now, especially because man-made climate change is creating “the right conditions for it to happen” — even if those conditions haven’t been met yet.

The media, says Thornalley, are “right to flag it as something that is potentially catastrophic, though catastrophic obviously in a different way than in a movie.”

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Relax, The Day After Tomorrow isn’t going to happen, like, tomorrow

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Melting ice could unleash hazardous waste from abandoned Cold War project

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Melting ice could unleash hazardous waste from abandoned Cold War project

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A major glacier in Greenland might be breaking apart.

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A major glacier in Greenland might be breaking apart.

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The sea is rising three times faster than we thought.

A lot of climate hawks spent late 2016 and early 2017 in reassessment or mourning. Meanwhile, Anthony Torres was busy channeling his fellow engaged millennials into direct action, including coordinated sit-ins at the offices of New York’s Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Minority Leader, and Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware. The message: Do not play ball with the polluter-in-chief.

The son of a Nicaraguan immigrant father and a working-class New Yorker mother, Torres grew up with sea-level rise on his Long Island doorstep, and he understands how poverty, climate, and other social challenges are all knitted together. He’s proven especially adept at rallying peers to his side, both in an official capacity at the Sierra Club (where he helped coordinate communications and direct actions that aided in a defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and in extracurricular work with groups like #AllOfUs, a progressive collective aimed at organizing young people around threatened communities.

His advice on connecting different constituencies: “Activists need to create a story that is accessible to people who are not necessarily in our movements but who are in need of a bold and inspiring vision,” Torres says. “To me, it’s telling a story of America that intersects with race, gender, and class” and turning what might seem like differences into “a weapon in our arsenal that creates an America that never has happened before — a country for all of us.”

Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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The sea is rising three times faster than we thought.

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