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Greenland is a good example of why climate change is so complex

Greenland, the massive Arctic landmass that’s bigger than Mexico, is about 80% covered in ice containing about 10% of the world’s freshwater reserves. Climate change is imperiling a significant portion of this landlocked ice as polar regions of the planet warm faster than other areas. If Greenland’s entire ice sheet melted—which could take hundreds or thousands of years—global sea level could rise by as much as 23 feet on average.

Earlier this year, Fusion’s Nicolas Ibarguen traveled to Greenland to see for himself how the world’s second largest ice sheet, which is two miles thick at some points, is already being impacted by climate change. What he found was a complex portrait in which melting ice and permafrost is both contributing to global sea level rise while also revealing new economic opportunities for the remote region in the form of previously inaccessible oil and mineral deposits.

“Climate change in Greenland is a major pressure, at the same time it’s also giving us the greatest (economic) driver.”

As the New York Times recently reported, increasing demand for minerals such as gold, silver, and zinc as well as the rare earth elements used in smartphones and technology, is creating a dilemma for those inhabiting the land, many of whom currently rely on farming to get by.

Aleqa Hammond, the former prime minister of Greenland, recently said that “climate change in Greenland is a major pressure, at the same time it’s also giving us the greatest driver, and I’m sure that we are the only country around the world that sees both at the same time.”

Climate change is often hard to visualize, and Greenland’s melting and calving glaciers offer one of the best ways to capture the disruptive nature of the slow-moving changes.

Neils Gumdel, a local fisherman and tour guide, told Ibarguen that he can “see that the thickness of the ice, especially in the fjords, is not as thick as it used to be.”

Ibarguen traveled in Greenald with Dr. Robert Corell, a climate scientist and chair of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Corell said that the ice melt from Greeland has produced “about 40% of the sea level rise we have experienced over the last 100 years.”

Between 1993 and 2010, Greenland’s ice sheet added around 0.33 millimeters per year to global sea levels. As the Carbon Brief reports, under the IPCC’s high emissions scenario, Greenland’s shrinking ice is expected to raise sea levels by 12 cm by 2100.


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