No nation is feeling the impacts of climate change quicker than Greenland. While it is easy to focus on the island nations who are starting to be flood in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Greenland is rapidly losing its ice cover. Scientists have been predicting the ice across the massive land mass would disappear by 2100.
Research has shown by then that forty-four species of North American trees will be able to grow in Greenland. Certainly Arctic Dwarf Birch trees could cover an area twice the size of Sweden.
However an article in this week Rolling Stone Magazine by Bill McKibben reports that what scientists expected to take ten years is now happening within weeks and has terrible consequences for the globe's climate.
Box [Scientist Jason Box ]had conservatively predicted that it might take up to a decade before the surface of Greenland's ice sheet melted all at once. That it actually happened in just a few weeks only underscores how consistently cautious ice scientists have been in forecasting the threat posed by global warming. Now, however, that caution is being replaced by well-founded alarm. "Greenland is a sleeping giant that's waking," says Box. "In this new climate, the ice sheet is going to keep shrinking – the only question is how fast."
The new data from Greenland matters for every corner of the planet. Water pouring into the North Atlantic will not only raise sea levels, but is also likely to modify weather patterns. "If the world allows a substantial fraction of the Greenland ice sheet to disintegrate, all hell breaks loose for eastern North America and Europe," says NASA's James Hansen, the world's foremost climatologist.
But the future, pressing as it is, sometimes gives way to sheer awe at the scale of what we've already done. Simply by changing the albedo of the Greenland ice sheet, Box calculates, the island now absorbs more extra energy each summer than the U.S. consumes in a year. The shape and color of the ice sheet's crystals, in other words, are trapping more of the sun's rays than all the cars and factories and furnaces produce in the world's biggest economy. One of Box's collaborators, photographer James Balog, puts it like this: "Working in Greenland these past years has left me with a profound feeling of being in the middle of a decisive historic moment – the kind of moment, at least in geologic terms, that marks the grand tidal changes of history." Amid this summer's drama of drought, fire and record heat, the planet's destiny may have been revealed, in a single season, by the quiet metamorphosis of a silent, empty sheet of ice.