There goes the neighbourhood

Michael
Michael Johansen
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When your neighbours are in the news, it usually means they're in trouble and when your neighbours are in trouble it can mean their problems will soon be spilling over into your yard.

Greenland is melting.

This is not news. The large island's massive icecap has been showing signs of deterioration for several years. Anyone familiar with Canada's seasons (anyone who has watched snow and ice thaw in the springtime) has been able to follow the telltale symptoms quite easily.

First, as temperatures rise, the snow and ice rots from the inside. Snow compacts as the crystals lose their form and dissolve entirely into sodden pools throughout the white depths.

Ice tends to candlestick. Its concrete hardness weakens and fractures, leaving candle-like structures holding each other upright in loose and haphazard columns. Break open a patch and they all fall like tenpins.

The surface of the ice and snow doesn't always reveal what is happening underneath, but at the same time it can accelerate the event as intact crystals focus warming beams of sunlight deep within.

However, that won't last long. At this point, it doesn't take much of a temperature rise or very much time to melt the surface entirely and wash it away in a veritable gush of water.

That's what just happened to Greenland - Labrador's nearest foreign neighbour and the only other country besides the United States (Greenland being an autonomous province of Denmark) with which Canada shares a border. NASA (the Americans' space exploration agency) recently released images and data showing that the surface of 40 per cent of Greenland's icecap had undergone melting by July 8 (which would not be abnormal), but by July 12 only three per cent of the surface was untouched by thaw.

NASA, which gathered the information using a series of satellite passes, reported that the melt was caused by a ridge of warm air that had parked itself and formed a hot dome over Greenland for a few days - essentially cooking everything inside.

Unfortunately, many of the news reports of the event (especially those issued by the American Republican-influenced networks) have left the impression that it was not just the surface of Greenland's ice that had thawed away, but that 97 per cent of all the ice had melted, leaving only remnants behind.

This confusion has allowed the few remaining, but loudly vocal and disturbingly powerful climate-change skeptics to ridicule any alarm that has been raised over the occurrence - as has a report that such surface melts may have already been taking place for some reason with some regularity over the past 10,000 years and was a frequent occurrence 70,000 years ago when the Earth was having trouble keeping steady on its axis.

The peculiar logic of the skeptics allows them, as they are wont, to both claim that the melt didn't really happen, but if it did happen then it was of no real importance (or any of their responsibility) because it was caused naturally. Bizarrely, they claim it's not dangerous and nothing should be done about it.

If only those skeptics had not helped with all their might to ensure that nothing can ever be done about it at this late date, or about any of the other extreme weather events the planet has been experiencing lately.

Luckily, a catastrophe does not seem to be imminent, since the warm dome of air over Greenland has dissipated and much of the icecap surface has a chance to refreeze.

However, there's no indication we will now wait another full 150 years for it to happen again.

There's nothing to stop another dome from forming next year and each year after that - or even next week, for that matter.

If it happens frequently enough, the whole icecap will indeed melt - not just the surface layers, but everything down to the long hidden bedrock.

That won't mean we'll get more of those incredible ice islands drifting past Labrador.

It means there could soon be no icebergs at all and there will be a dramatic rise in sea levels all along the Atlantic coast. As for what that means: well, we'll all just have to wait and see.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: NASA

Geographic location: Greenland, Canada, United States Denmark Labrador

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  • fheilman
    August 04, 2012 - 18:46

    This complexity cut down to something simple: H20. In quantities hardly to imagine. This H2O must be usefull for someone somewhere somehow?

  • Politically Incorrect
    August 04, 2012 - 15:58

    France and Russia also border Canada.