At ground zero of warming, Greenland seeks to unlock frozen assets

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

22 PHOTOS
Greenland's melting ice
See Gallery
At ground zero of warming, Greenland seeks to unlock frozen assets
Children play amid icebergs on the beach in Nuuk, Greenland, June 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alister Doyle TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Wildflowers bloom on a hill overlooking the Narsarsuaq glacier in southern Greenland July 25, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL)
An iceberg floats near a harbour in the town of Kulusuk, east Greenland August 1, 2009. Picture taken August 1. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND TRAVEL ENVIRONMENT)
Icebergs float in the calm waters of a fjord, south of Tasiilaq in eastern Greenland August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT)
Icebergs float in a fjord near the south Greenland town of Narsaq July 28, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A field of wildflowers blooms on a hill outside in Tasiilaq August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND)
Clothes hang out to dry in the town of Ilulissat in western Greenland in this photo taken May 14, 2007. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND)
Picture shows a fjord behind the town of Ilulissat in Greenland August 16, 2007, during the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel to the region. Merkel and Gabriel are on a two day visit to Greenland to get information on consequences of global warming. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/Pool (GREENLAND)
Houses are illuminated by the early morning sun in the town of Tasiilaq in eastern Greenland August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT)
The Greenland ice cap is formed into mounds and ridges near the town of Kulusuk August 2, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT)
A large iceberg floats in Eriks Fjord near the town of Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland July 26, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL)
A colony of Black-legged Kittiwake seagulls tend to their chicks on a cliff near the south Greenland town of Narsaq July 28, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT)
Wildflowers bloom on a hill overlooking a fjord filled with icebergs near the south Greenland town of Narsaq July 27, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A large iceberg floats in Eriks Fjord near the town of Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland July 26, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL)
An iceberg floats in a fjord near the town of Kulusuk in eastern Greenland August 2, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT)
A large iceberg melts into jagged edges as it floats in Eriks Fjord near the town of Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland July 26, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL)
Houses are painted in bright colors in the town of Ilulissat in western Greenland as seen in this photo taken May 15, 2007. REUTERS/BOB STRONG (GREENLAND) Also see image: GF1DVYVPIWAA
Icebergs are reflected in the waters of Eriks Fjord near the town of Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland July 26, 2009. REUTERS/Bob Strong (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL)
An iceberg is pictured in Ilulissat fjord in Greenland August 16, 2007, during the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel to the region. Merkel and Gabriel are on a two day visit to Greenland to get information on consequences of global warming. REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/Pool (GREENLAND)
A whale dives into sea off the coast of Greenland's capital Nuuk October 17, 2012. By a remote fjord where icebergs float in silence and hunters stalk reindeer, plans are being drawn up for a huge iron ore mine that would lift Greenland's population by four percent at a stroke - by hiring Chinese workers. The $2.3-billion project by the small, British company London Mining Plc would also bring diesel power plants, a road and a port near Greenland's capital Nuuk. It would supply China with much needed iron for the steel its economy. With global warming thawing its Arctic sea lanes, and global industry eyeing minerals under this barren island a quarter the size of the United States, the 57,000 Greenlanders are wrestling with opportunities that offer rich rewards but risk harming a pristine environment and a traditional society that is trying to make its own way in the world after centuries of European rule. Yet a scramble for Greenland already may be under way, in which some see China trying to exploit the icebound territory as a staging ground in a global battle for Arctic resources and strategic control of new shipping routes. Picture taken October 17, 2012. To match Insight GREENLAND/ REUTERS/Alistair Scrutton (GREENLAND - Tags: BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT)
Icebergs are reflected in the calm waters at the mouth of the Jakobshavn ice fjord near Ilulissat in Greenland in this photo taken May 15, 2007. New York, Boston and other cities on North America's northeast coast could face a rise in sea level this century that would exceed forecasts for the rest of the planet if Greenland's ice sheet keeps melting as fast as it is now, researchers said May 27, 2009. Sea levels off the northeast coast of North America could rise by 12 to 20 inches more than other coastal areas if the Greenland glacier-melt continues to accelerate at its present pace, the researchers reported. REUTERS/Bob Strong/Files (GREENLAND ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

BUKSEFJORD, Greenland, June 13 (Reuters) - On top of the world, by a fjord in western Greenland, a remote hydro power plant is buzzing with extra water from the melt of ancient glaciers. This island at ground zero of global warming is seeking to be one of the few places on Earth to benefit.

Outside the Buksefjord plant, the biggest of five hydro-electricity stations built in Greenland since 1993 in a push to move away from imported oil, cod that usually only thrive further south can be seen swimming in the clear water.

And a worker at the facility is preparing to grow potatoes and turnips on land close to the Arctic Circle that is usually too cold for anything other than lichen and reindeer.

The north Atlantic island "is in the midst of new thinking," Environment Minister Mala Hoy Kuko said, to capitalize on an alarming thaw that included a record early melt on the vast ice sheet in April 2016 before a cooler May.

Hydro power "potential will grow even bigger with the warming of the climate," Kuko said in the capital Nuuk, which gets power from Buksefjord 56 km (35 miles) away. Above his desk is a 2-meter tusk of a narwhal, a whale known as the unicorn of the sea.

Climate change, caused mainly by greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, is set to cause economic harm in almost all parts of the world by spurring ever more droughts, heat waves and floods, according a U.N. panel.

See how South Carolina is reacting to climate change:

1 PHOTOS
Charleston, SC acts on climate change
See Gallery
At ground zero of warming, Greenland seeks to unlock frozen assets
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Low-lying tropical island states from the Maldives to Tuvalu view Greenland's 3,000-meter (10,000 ft) thick ice sheet with foreboding since it contains enough ice to raise world sea levels by 6 meters if it ever all melted, over many centuries.

But for the 56,000 inhabitants of Greenland, a giant island a quarter the size of the United States, the melt may be unlocking frozen assets and helping businesses including fishing, farming, mining, shipping and tourism.

"Unfortunately I can't sit down and weep and say it (climate change) is bad because overall it's good for Greenland," said Henrik Leth, chairman of both Greenland's biggest private company, Polar Seafood, and the Greenland Business Association.

His firm's pre-tax profit rose to 335 million Danish crowns ($51 million) in 2015 from 235 million in 2014 thanks to high prices for its main products, prawns and Greenland halibut.

About 90 percent of the island's exports are fisheries, and many hunters and fishermen welcome shifts in currents, apparently linked to warming, that have brought cod to west Greenland for the first time in two decades, and mackerel to the east.

Study Shows Record-High Glacier Melt in Greenland

HUNTERS

Prime Minister Kim Kielsen, whose island has wide powers of self-rule within the kingdom of Denmark, cautioned that "there are pros and cons" to the melt.

Arctic regions are warming at about twice the global average, partly because a melt of white ice and snow reveals darker ground and water that soaks up ever more heat.

Most worryingly for Greenlanders, the melt threatens the livelihoods of indigenous hunters in the north who use dogsleds and rely on ice to hunt seals. And some buildings and airports standing on permafrost are at risk.

Faced with such threats, the islanders are looking to extract as many benefits as possible from the changes.

The ice melt could help the government meet its target of raising the share of its electricity that comes from hydro to 90 percent by 2030, from about two-thirds now.

Officials say hydro plants that could draw directly from the ice sheet could power a proposed new aluminum smelter and iron ore mines such as for iron ore.

Buksefjord gets water from a lake, fed mostly by rain and melting snow, with some from ancient glaciers, officials say.

Climate change could also boost the island's hopes to develop minerals ranging from rare earths to oil and gas, even though low prices have put most plans on hold. Melting snow and ice makes prospecting less complicated and improves access to sites.

"There will be more open water for shipping and it will be cheaper for companies to get out minerals," said Josephine Nymand, a scientist at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

The opening waterways could prove a boon for the tourism industry too, giving visitors better views of spectacular glaciers, such as at Ilulissat. This summer, Crystal Cruises LLC plans to send a first cruise ship through the Northwest Passage from Alaska to New York, calling at Greenland.

Among other projects linked to the Greenland melt, scientists are also studying how to tap some of a billion tonnes of milky colored sediment that gets washed every year from the ice sheet into the sea.

"It could be dredged up and shipped to tropical nations as nutrients" for farming, said Minik Rosing, a professor of geology at Copenhagen University.

Related: How climate change is affecting the massive Patagonia glaciers:

13 PHOTOS
Global warming, climate change impacting Patagonia's massive glaciers
See Gallery
At ground zero of warming, Greenland seeks to unlock frozen assets
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: Ice calves from the Northern wall of the Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: Runoff cascades from the edge of Heim glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 27: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 27, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a blueish hue due to light refraction. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: Runoff cascades from the edge of Heim glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 27: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 27, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: An iceberg broken off from a melting glacier floats in Lake Argentino, which holds runoff water from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the surrounding Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: Melting glacial ice floats in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: An iceberg broken off from a melting glacier floats in Lake Argentino, which holds runoff water from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a blueish hue due to light refraction. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the surrounding Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: Melted glacial ice floats in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 29: The Perito Moreno glacier stands in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, on November 29, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Certain areas of glacial ice take on a bluish hue due to light refraction. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the third largest ice field in the world. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park have been retreating during the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in ice caps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SANTA CRUZ PROVINCE, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 28: Runoff cascades from the edge of Heim glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world, on November 28, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost fifty large glaciers in the park have been retreating over the past fifty years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The United States Geological Survey reports that over 68 percent of the world's freshwater supplies are locked in icecaps and glaciers. The United Nations climate change conference begins November 30 in Paris. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

VIKINGS

Economists say it is hard to pin down the net effects of climate change for Greenland, named by the Vikings about 1,000 years ago during a natural warm period.

For farmers, for example, warmth and a longer growing season in the south have been offset by drought - some have hauled icebergs from the sea to help irrigation.

Prime Minister Kielsen, pointing to the ceiling of his office, about 3 meters high, said that in the north: "Just 15 years ago the sea ice thickness could be compared to the height of this room." In some places, it was now too thin to walk on, he added.

Showing the importance of ice for transport, Greenland's statistics bureau documents about 15,000 sled dogs on the island against just 4,033 cars, two motorbikes and "railways: 0 km."

The pace of change this year has been disorientating, even though Greenlanders have adapted to sharp shifts in climate since people first arrived from North America 4,500 years ago.

Many people in Nuuk, a town of 17,000, were shocked when organizers of the Arctic Winter Games in early March, usually a snowy month, had to generate artificial snow.

Among the drawbacks of warming, rising temperatures are thawing permafrost such as at Kangerlussuaq on the Arctic Circle, the site of the island's main airport. And in 2012, a flood of melt water from the ice sheet washed away a bridge.

"It was a disaster," said Kim Ernst, a former chef at the Roklubben restaurant that was cut off for three months.

Many glaciers worldwide are shrinking because the summer melt exceeds the amount of snow that falls in winter and gets compressed into ice. In many nations, from the Andes to the Himalayas, this will disrupt hydro power and irrigation.

But despite Greenland losing about a net 300 billion tonnes of ice a year, according to the Danish Meteorological Service, its store is almost inexhaustible.

The CEO of government-owned energy company Nukissiorfiit, Michael Pedersen, said it was looking at building a new hydro project to provide power to the towns of Aasiaat and Qasigiannguit in the west.

But like climate change itself, benefits can be unpredictable. Fishermen seeking the new arrivals, for example, are at the mercy of shifting currents that are often a mystery.

"Three weeks ago I went out fishing and got a lot of cod," said Tønnes Berthelsen, deputy head of the KNAPK association of fishermen and hunters.

"Yesterday I went fishing again but I didn't get even one."

($1 = 6.5769 Danish crowns)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners

Man Suspects His Wife Is Cheating On Him - Then His Daughter Reveals What's Really Going Man Suspects His Wife Is Cheating On Him - Then His Daughter Reveals What's Really Going
Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport
20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job 20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job