July 9, 2009

Massive Greenland Glacier Melting At Troublesome Pace

One of the world's largest glaciers is under attack from global climate change, researchers reported on Thursday.

Located along Greenland's west coast, Ilulissat is known as the most active glacier in the northern hemisphere and among the world's largest.

An American study last summer showed that climate change had melted 60 square miles of surface area from the UNESCO-listed glacier from 2001-2005.

A recent report by Andreas Peter Ahlstroem, of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, showed that the glacier is shrinking at a faster pace than ever before.

"Its calving rate (breaking off of ice) has never been so rapid," Ahlstroem told AFP.

Last month, some 30 climate delegates from the world's developed nations met at Ilulissat to "change points of view and go further in its conclusions than those in other forums," said Danish Climate Minster Connie Hedegaard.

The informal meeting involved some of the world's largest polluters, including the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Russia, Japan, India and Brasil.

Glacier expert Shfaqat Abbas Khan, of the Danish Space Center, said the site was chosen because it represents the "most visible and striking example of climate change."

Khan told AFP that Ilulissat is shedding 85 million tons of icebergs per day.

"A lot of glaciers in Greenland are melting at more or less the same pace and even with an ambitious agreement at the summit ... it will be impossible to stop this," Khan said.

Khan used satellites, GPS and personal visits to the site to show the rapid rate of loss being inflicted upon the glacier due to climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. He said the major UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December might come too late to save the Ilulissat.

"We should aim to at least reduce CO2 emissions and limit the damage done," he said.

Khan said UN estimates showing that the current melting rate could cause sea levels to rise by seven to 24 inches by 2100 fail to add Greenland glaciers into account.

"In fact, if this thawing that we see ... was to spread across the whole island, the sea level would rise between one meter and 1.5 meters by the end of the century," he told AFP.

"The question is: what would happen if the warmer waters of the fjord were to filter through the glacier and further speed up the thawing process?"

Hunters and fishermen in the region are already witnessing the impacts of the glacial melt.

"When the water gets warmer, the shrimp become rarer as they move further north," said Leif Fontaine, who heads the fishing and hunting association in Nuuk.

"And the melting ice is worrying, especially for the residents of isolated villages in the north and the east who only have sleds and no boats to hunt, fish and survive," he told AFP.


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