Climate Days brought together 158 Arctic specialists to share with one another the current knowledge of ice conditions and climate change in the Arctic. The primary venue for the conference was Ilulissat’s Hotel Arctic.
Sponsors who made this conference possible include Denmark’s National Space Institute, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the European Space Agency, the International Arctic Science Committee, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, the Hotel Arctic, and others.
Introductions made at Ilulissat’s sports hall (Ilulissat Hallen) were presented by Mala Høy,
Greenland Minister of Nature, Environment, and Justice. Anne Riiser presented a welcome from the Nordic Council of Ministers (NORDFORSK).
Professor Rene Forsberg led off for the major sponsoring institution, DTU-Space,
which is a Danish research Institute and part of the Technical University of Denmark. Here, he follows with a conversation with Toku Oshima of Qaanaaq, Greenland, on climate change and its effects on traditional hunting and fishing.
Professor Konrad Steffen, Director of the Swiss Federal Research Institute, began with the observation that sea level had been constant for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Now, with global warming producing more melt water and the upper layers of the ocean undergoing thermal expansion, we are seeing sea level begin to rise. The warmest year to date is 2014. Through changes in precipitation, evaporation, runoff, and ice discharge, the Greenland Ice Sheet is experiencing a loss in ice mass. The warming oceans are increasingly a key factor in melting of both glacier and sea ice.
Dr. Jennifer Mercer contractor to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) thanked that body for its support of Arctic and Antarctic research, with its largest funding increases directed to Alaska and Greenland. Other conference leadoff speakers included Jørgen Hammeken-Holm, Acting Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources. He commented that even with all the sea ice reduction in Greenland waters, commercial quantities of gas and oil have not been found.
Dr. Mark Drinkwater from the Netherlands, with the European Space Agency addressed the use of satellite programs through which ESA monitors and studies the cryosphere. He offers that the ocean is becoming warmer and there is more evaporation – more moisture in air, and more precipitation, which falls as snow at higher elevation in central Greenland, which rises to above 10,000 ft.
Karen Anne Arleth, Head of Greenland’s Climate Office addressed Greenland climate change and adaptation policy.
From a cultural change perspective, artists Bjarki Bragason and Anna Lindal of Iceland talked of how politics influences both economy and nature. A loop has been created in which cultural change is causing climate change, which leads to further cultural change – a continuous downward lock step spiral of climate and culture, as we know them. Bragason and Lindal raise the question: Can our economic model be sustained?
Selected Modeling Endeavors
Image caption: Subsequent conference sessions over the period June 3 through 5 were held in the Hotel Arctic, which operates under the Directorship of Erik Bjerregaard. Aerial image is of hotel with town to right (south) and airport to left (north).
Maximum thickness of sea ice around Greenland occurred in the 1980s. In 2012, on the ice sheet, Greenland experienced its record year for glacial melt. 2013 had much less melt, possibly due to a coldwater incursion into coastal fjords that reduced the amount of ice lost through calving. This temporarily reduced the ice discharge of outlet glaciers.
The European Space Agency (ESA) through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI) space program measures ice mass through three variables: elevation, gravity, and ice flow velocity. The data show that there is more ice melt in Greenland than in Ellesmere and Baffin combined, particularly in 2010 and 2012.
One of the leaders of these modeling endeavors is Konrad Steffen who has personally installed 25 automatic weather stations in Greenland.
Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) does very impressive modeling of ice sheet climatology and surface mass balance. The key is understanding the relationship between elevation and precipitation and the amount of surface melting. These variables are all represented in “Greenland Mass Loss Fits”. Several different models use the same data in different ways, though all realize the same trend of decreasing Greenland ice mass.
In its climate change studies in Greenland, Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice (SVALI), a Nordic research initiative, found like GEUS that while there is loss of ice through melt in lower reaches of Greenland, the volume of ice at higher, central elevations continues to increase. As the atmosphere and oceans warm, there is more evaporation and precipitation, with the latter falling as snow at higher elevations in Greenland.
Changes in ice sheet mass can be measured in Greenland by using “space-borne grravimetry”. A pair of orbiting satellites repeatedly measures the gravitational attraction of ice sheet as they pass overhead. The amount of ice lost as the ice sheet melts and as icebergs break off the edge of the ice sheet is not compensated for by new snow and ice. The satellites measure the resulting mass imbalance.
Glacial velocity is a function of season and proximity to sea. There are interesting patterns of advance and retreat, which correlate with ocean temperature. The ice dynamics are a function of velocity (which is a function of the steepness of the outlet glacier), calving rate (which is related to ocean temperature) and subglacial hydrology. (Ian Joughin and Ben Smith). The force of gravity, the weight of the ice, drives ice flow. Changes in climate can modify the frictional forces that resist ice flow. For example, lubrication by melt water can reduce friction if it makes its way to the base of the ice sheet, allowing faster flow.
There is an increase in snowfall in central Greenland, which doesn’t compensate for the mass lost at the edges.
In 2013, the rate at which ice loss was occurring slowed. With apparent overturning of the North Atlantic’s massive waters, there was likely a cold-water incursion into the fjords around Greenland, with less heat energy being delivered to the outlet glaciers. This unusual event caused several outlet glaciers to temporarily thicken and advance as of time of conference May 2015 (Mike Bevis). The temperature has averaged three degrees less than the average temperature for this time of year calculated over the last 30 years, barometric pressure has decreased, and precipitation has increased.
A significant realization of glacial modeling is that climate feedback mechanisms, like weather, are not linear.
Through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI), the European Space Agency has investigated ‘essential climate variables’, which are related to changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet. CCI data products include ice velocity, surface elevation change, calving front location, and grounding line location.
Doug Benn concluded that calving, sub-aqueous melting, and buoyancy of, causes the front of floating ice to bend upwards, as ice beneath the water line melts more rapidly than ice above the water line. This has led to collapsing ice fronts at glaciers in Svalbard. Water from beneath glaciers can drive circulation in fjords, bringing in warmer ocean water that enhances the rate of ice melt and calving, sometimes accelerating glacial speed. Benn suggested that glacier surges may sometimes be driven by ice changes at the front of the glacier rather than up in the accumulation area of the glacier.
The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program identified black carbon as a short-lived pollutant that drifts in from the south with 2015 proving to be a record-breaking high as massive, largely uncontrolled forest fires burn throughout western North America from California through British Columbia to Alaska with carbon particulate matter streaming to the Arctic. Local sources of black carbon further amplify build up. Every Arctic village has its own diesel-fired generator or electrical plant that emits black carbon.
The Greenland Climate Research Centre studies the fundamental relationships between community, ice, and living resources in northwest Greenland. They ask what does weather and climate change mean to the people who are dependent upon the sea for a livelihood. The essence of culture is to serve as a repository of hard won knowledge gained over time, which lends predictability to life. Actor Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves speaks of the loss of this predictability among the Southwest American Indians in the nineteenth century: “Through changes in circumstances, a people who become unable to predict the future become confused”.
Ilulissat Climate Days effectively demonstrated the complexity of climate science through the truly, fascinating modeling of environmental change in Greenland and with worldwide implications of those changes.
The Greenland Ice Mapping Project has tracked Jakobshavn (now Ilulissat) for 20 years, through 2014. The greatest rate of ice loss was in 2012. In recent years, the glacial terminus where calving occurs in Jakobshavn is moving inland approximately 600 meters each year.
Tracking Jakobshavn Glacier Flow
In 2013 I had the good fortune to meet Jens Ploug Larsen, a pilot who flies with Air Greenland as well as with his own local airline, Airzafari. In 2015, with one of Jens’s pilots, Martin, we tracked the Jakobshavn Glacier from Ilulissat inland towards the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photographs track glacial progression from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Note that images portray calving, or “ablation”, that begins well away from the sea.
To present this one glacier in a quantitative, global context, Jakobshavn – one of Greenland’s most prolific – each year produces enough water to satisfy all of the annual water requirements of the United States.
The Greenland Ice Sheet, which rises to more than 2 miles in height, is like a frozen desert that drifts largely through the forces of elevation (gravity) and ice mass. While still miles form the sea, a stream from the Greenland ice sheet enters the Jakobshavn channel. With compression and steeper incline, the ablation zone, region of calving, begins while still miles from the sea.
A major ablation zone of Jakobshavn is fed with a number of ice streams, which congregate like the headwaters and tributaries of a river watershed. In front of the glacier is the top of a sheared wall, still prominently displayed as one large ridge with a zone of ice detritus in between.
Iceberg wall, shaped like preceding image of a sheared wall, now floats in the waters of Ilulissat’s Icefjord. All will become icebergs - and water.
In the setting sun of an Arctic evening, a paddler in his kayak navigates through the icebergs of the Jakobshavn Glacier, calved into the waters of Ilulissat.
NSF flight with Air National Guard 109th from Stratton Air Force Base Scotia, New York to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) arranged for air transport for the American delegation on an U.S. Air Force C-130 from Stratton Base in upstate New York to Greenland’s primary airport, Kangerlussuaq.
Wilfred E. Richard, PhD Research Associate
Arctic Studies Center, U.S. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,
Research Fellow, Uummannaq Polar Institute, Uummannaq, Greenland
Michael John Willis, PhD, Research Associate
Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University
Adjunct Assistant Research Professor
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Hal Salzman, PhD
Professor and Senior Faculty Fellow
Rutgers, The State University of New York
Renee D. Crain - National Science Foundation Logistical Support
Jens Ploug Larsen - Airzafari
Ronald W. Levere - publication design