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June 10, 2007

Some Greenlanders warming to climate change

 In few parts of the world is climate change more real – and personal – than here. At a science station in the ice-covered interior of Greenland, average winter temperatures rose nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit from 1991 to 2003. Winters are shorter, ice is melting, and creatures are on the move.

A rapid meltdown and fast-sliding glaciers in Greenland could raise sea levels around the world and flood coastal cities and farmland. The infusion of cold water could jolt the Gulf Stream, alter weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and scatter fish and marine stocks.

While Greenland has many people who fear what warming will bring, it has quite a few others who reckon they may do quite well by it.

Kim Hoegh-Dam is betting a fortune that the changing climate will bring the cod back to Greenland. The 44-year-old businessman has lined up more than $1 million to buy a small fleet of trawlers and three processing plants.

"Global warming will increase the cod tremendously and will bring other species up from the south," he said with confidence.

The seas around Greenland show the highest temperatures since the 1960s. A trawler sent with government inspectors to test the old cod grounds off eastern Greenland this year made a biblical catch. The holds were filled with 25 tons of cod in one hour, and the crew had to stop fishing.

Conservationists are cautious. "If you start fishing this, you could stop the cod from building up," said Holger Hovgard of the Greenland Institute for Natural Resources in the capital, Nuuk.

But for now, many hardy Greenlanders who wrest a living from the harsh environment see opportunities. One hundred seventy miles past the Arctic Circle, in the fishing village of Ilulissat, Inuit men thread hundreds of hooks attached to long fishing lines. Traditionally, when the winter pack ice closed over the waters of their fjord, the men would take lines and nets on dog sleds and cut holes in the ice to catch Greenland halibut. But in recent winters, the pack ice never closed, and the men worked from their boats all year.

"It is much easier to go by boat than to try to haul everything by dogs," said Ove Olsvig, 39. "We can catch a lot more." He paused. "I don't think it's good." The higher catch will take its toll on the fish stock, he said. Then, "the fishing will not be so good."

Ono Fleischer, one of the most renowned dog sledders in Greenland, dismisses with a wave any sentiment over the shrinking ice.

"With the warmer weather, we don't have to fight the cold so much. Our health is better. Our equipment doesn't break down so much, and we don't use so much fuel. The time for industry is longer, and there are more places we can go by boat," Fleischer, 59, said.

But Silverio Scivoli, who runs a tourist agency, worries that the warmer weather will kill the attractions visitors come to see.

"The tourists want to see glaciers and huge icebergs. They want to go dog sledding and see an igloo," he said. "I used to take them on 12-day dog-sled trips from here to Uummannaq. Now, I can't. There's no ice."

In the sparsely peopled far north of Greenland, Inuit wait for the Arctic Sea ice to close on the land each fall. They take their dog sleds and snowmobiles onto the ice to hunt food: seals, whales and polar bears. But the ice now takes longer to come.

At one remote ice patrol station, Daneborg, the water was open for 80 days a decade ago. Now it stays ice-free for 140 days, said Soren Rysgaard, a researcher for the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

In three recent years, some of the northern villages appealed for emergency food aid because they could not get on the ice to hunt.

"If a seal hunter can't hunt, what is he to do?" asked Alfred Jakobsen, Greenland's minister of the environment.

This article appeared in the Spokesman Review on June 10, 2007

A few may profit, but many will suffer.

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