Ice rapidly decreasing in Greenland

A dog sled team runs across sea ice outside the village of Qaanaaq, northwestern Greenland, on July 3.
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

QAANAAQ, northwestern Greenland - Greenland has been rapidly warming, the thick ice sheets that cover its land sharply decreasing along with its glaciers and sea ice.

Greenland is a territory of Denmark, and is drawing attention as a front line of the serious impact of global warming ahead of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), which will be held from November to December in Paris.

I recently visited northwestern Greenland with a research team from Hokkaido University.

On July 3, our dog sled left the village of Qaanaaq, which has a population of about 600 people and faces a huge fjord. The dog sled travelled over sea ice, carefully avoiding many puddles. In less than 30 minutes, a 100-meter-wide crack in the ice blocked our way.

Hunter Qipisoq Uudlogaq manoeuvred the sled, shouting, "left," "right," "go" and "stop" in a special local language used to guide dogs.

His forehead was sweaty in the season of the midnight sun, with the mercury at 17 C. We didn't even need snowsuits.

The dog sled travelled along the ice crack.

Around this season, hunters catch narwhals and seals. Narwhal skin can be eaten and sells at high prices, while seals are feed for dogs.

Hunters use a rifle to catch seals. To catch narwhals, they first go to the edge of the ice by dog sled and then approach the animals in kayaks to harpoon them.

Uudlogaq, 32, first went hunting when he was 10 years old. He said the sea ice is thin recently and hunting has become more dangerous and difficult than before.

The average yearly temperature in Qaanaaq was minus 12 C in the early 1980s, but it is now minus 10 C. In summer from June to August, it used to be less than 4 C, but from 2005 it has often reached about 6 C.

The world's average yearly temperature rose 0.8 C in the last 100 years, but Qaanaaq has seen a far greater rise in its average temperature.

"There is more melted ice, and more ice flowing from glaciers into the sea," said Shin Sugiyama, an associate professor of Hokkaido University. "This causes sea levels to rise. Ice has been decreasing faster and faster since the 1990s. If the volume of sea ice falls, glaciers facing the sea can easily flow out into the sea."