We saw ice caps, icebergs and climate change in Greenland

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On a trip to Greenland, we camped on an ice cap, saw towering icebergs and witnessed the effects of climate change on the world’s biggest island.

In August, six students from the Herlufsholm School spent 10 days in Greenland to study the effects of climate change and to learn about the world’s largest island. Below are some pictures and a short video chronicling the trip.

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Our first night in Greenland was spent at point 66 on the Greenland ice cap, near the town of Kangerlussuaq. The small tents visible in the bottom right-hand corner formed our settlement for the night. (All photos by Ann Hansen)

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Here we are unpacking our stuff. The big orange tent was the main tent in our small camp and where we ate our meals around a small gas-burner. We spent about 24 hours on the ice cap. 

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Here we are hiking on the ice cap at sunset. Two days before our hike, it rained for the first time in history on the summit of the inland ice, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Scientists have pointed to climate change as an explanation.

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Point 66, where this photo was taken, lies above the polar circle. In the summer, the sun never sets here. It never got completely dark, and we felt as though we were walking during a continuous sunset.

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Here we are looking inside a “moulin” — sounds like “mulan,” but nothing to do with the Disney character, rather streams of water that carve deep holes in ice cap. This one is about 73 meters deep.

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On our hikes we came across many small streams. Our guide said the water was pure and safe to drink, so it was our drinking water while we were on the ice. Running water on the ice cap is common and natural, but because of global warming, it has become more prominent in recent years.

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This glacier has retreated more than a kilometer in the last 10 years due to climate change. The glacier is one of the most active in the region, so “calving” — when small pieces of ice break away — is very frequent and often in large amounts. The amount of ice that falls off it in a day is equal to the daily water consumption of Manhattan.

Here we are moving through remnants of the glacier Eqi. The small pieces of ice have broken from the glacier as it moves out to the sea.

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We were surprised by the grayish colour of the ice cap and wondered if it was due to pollution. But no, it is all completely natural. The gray material on top of the ice is called silt and made up of very small particles. Normally below the ice cap, silt rises to the surface as the ice moves and cracks. Global warming is causing more silt to be brought to the surface than usual. Because the silt is dark, it absorbs heat, creating a feedback loop that heats the ice even faster, contributing to global warming.

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On our trip we traveled many times by boat, both because this was a climate trip and because many places are inaccessible from land. Because Greenland has a small population and due to the harsh climate and environment, infrastructure is very limited. We saw many huge icebergs floating in the water.

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Here is Qeqertarsuaq, a village on Greenland’s coast, with a hunter-gatherer tradition, that contrasts with the more modern towns like Nuuk. Locals expressed worries about climate change. One of the students we talked to while visiting a school feared a part of their culture will vanish along with the ice.

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Here we are on a fishing expedition in a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. The biggest fish we caught with a dropline was a redfish, an Arctic fish commonly caught in the waters around Greenland. The food was delicious. A good way to spend our last evening in the north.

Three questions to consider:

  1. How has climate change affected Greenland?
  2. Should national or international authorities take steps to protect communities like Qeqertarsuaq whose way of life is threatened by global warming?
  3. Has climate change had an impact on your community?

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Simikka Dueholm Jensen is in her second-to-last year of high school at the Herlufsholm School in Denmark. Born and raised in the south of Denmark, she is interested in science and climate change, and enjoys traveling.

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Oluf Mærsk-Møller is in his second year of high school at the Herlufsholm School in Denmark. His favorite subjects are Social Studies and English. He enjoys yoga and hopes to become a lawyer.

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Ann Hansen is the head of International Development with a focus on Global Education at the Herlufsholm School in Denmark. Danish born and American bred, she is a member of the senior leadership team and responsible for development of internationalism, democracy, service and adventure at the high school.

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