Monday, June 21, 2010

Warming in Greenland

In Greenland, people are excited about climate change, hoping for a return of the warm weather that allowed the Vikings to settle the island in the 11th century:

It's a small thing, the early ripening of turnips on a summer morning—but in a country where some 80 percent of the land lies buried beneath an ice sheet up to two miles thick and where some people have never touched a tree, it stands for a large thing. Greenland is warming twice as fast as most of the world. Satellite measurements show that its vast ice sheet, which holds nearly 7 percent of the world's fresh water, is shrinking by about 50 cubic miles each year. . . .

Yet in Greenland itself, apprehension about climate change is often overshadowed by great expectations. For now this self-governing depen­dency of Denmark still leans heavily on its former colonial ruler. Denmark pumps $620 million into Greenland's anemic economy every year—more than $11,000 for each Greenlander. But the Arctic meltdown has already started to open up access to oil, gas, and mineral resources that could give Greenland the financial and polit­ical independence its people crave. Greenland's coastal waters are estimated to hold half as much oil as the North Sea's fields. Warmer tem­peratures would also mean a longer growing season for Greenland's 50 or so farms and perhaps reduce the country's utter reliance on imported food. At times these days it feels as if the whole country is holding its breath—waiting to see whether the "greening of Greenland," so regularly announced in the inter­national press, is actually going to happen.

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