Startling Greenland photo is a 'symbol of the changes' from global warming
Published Tuesday, June 18, 2019 8:45AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 19, 2019 8:10AM EDT
Danish researchers potentially exposed the ongoing effects of climate change, after snapping a startling photo as their team were travelling over melted sea ice sheet to retrieve weather equipment.
In the image, shot by Steffen M. Olsen from the Centre of Ocean and Ice at the Danish Meteorological Institute, the team’s sled dogs appear to be running on water.
The climate researcher was part of the institute’s team that was making its way across a partially melted fjord -- a narrow inlet with steep sides created by a glacier – in a journey made more hazardous by the rapidly melting sea ice.
In a tweet, Olsen said he snapped the photo on June 13, as the sled dogs were traversing the Inglefield Bredning fjord in northwest Greenland.
The team was retrieving oceanographic moorings and weather station equipment, according to a tweet from Olsen’s institute colleague Rasmus Tonboe.
“Rapid melt and sea ice with low permeability and few cracks leaves the melt water on top,” he explained online.
Besides calling it a “beautiful picture,” DMI climate scientist Ruth Mottram told CTV News Channel the “early onset of melting … is interesting because it communicates something about the changes that we’re seeing in the wider Arctic over the last few years.”
Greenland’s ice sheet melting season doesn’t typically start until late June or early July. On the day after the photo was taken, more than 40 per cent of Iceland experienced melting, with the total ice loss estimated to be around 2 billion tons.
On Twitter, Olsen also estimated that the ice was only 1.2 metres thick, which was disconcerting because he believed there was roughly a depth of 870 metres of water below the thin ice.
“Together with the local hunters, we have been measuring also ice thickness from December to now. An ongoing activity for almost a decade now,” he further explained.
Because of the hunters’ experience, Olsen said on Twitter that he and his team weren’t scared they’d fall into a hidden crevasse.
“These local hunters and their dogs are really experienced, daily life in the high arctic. We rely on traditional knowledge in the field though of course insisting on analyzing available satellite scenes in the joint planning,” he wrote.
In the past 12 hours, Olsen added they were able to recover the remaining instruments and that they’ll be “heading home in the coming days.”
The incident is not necessarily shocking to climate scientists, who noted there was record ice melting for June in the Arctic Ocean and Greenland as temperatures rose 4 degrees Celsius during the month compared to average temperatures in June.
Around the time the photo was taken, the Danish Meteorological Institute’s weather station near the country’s Qaanaaq airport also registered a high of 17.3 Celsius and 15 Celsius, last Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
Both of these recordings were high for northern Greenland, even for the summertime.
Mottram explained how teams like theirs have seen increasing amounts of melting from the country’s ice sheet.
She said they saw similar early, rapid ice melts in 2012. “We definitely think it’s something that’s going to be happening more in the future, and that’s in line with our climate projections,” Mottram said.
Mottram said the incident captured in the photo is “definitely a symbol of the changes that are going on globally.”
Since the image has gone viral, the attention from news outlets has caught Olsen off-guard, with him tweeting he ‘s been “slightly overwhelmed by the interest.”
He added that, while the photos showcased an “unusual day,” the image was “more symbolic than scientific to many.”
Mottram added greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are linked to what the photo captures. “It’s very clear that these kind of changes are very strongly related to global temperature and the more (it) goes up, the more extreme events we’re going to see,” she said.