Greenland's residents grapple with global warming

Jan 10 (Reuters) - Nestled between icy peaks and lapped in frozen ocean waters, the tiny town of Tasiilaq in southeastern Greenland is home to some 2,000 people.

Colorful wooden houses dot the sub-Arctic landscape battered by one of the harshest climates on the planet.

But global warming is reshaping the world's largest island, causing the ice sheet to melt at a faster rate than previously thought, according to recent research.

As scientists study the threats posed by a warming climate, some of the immediate effects of climate change have been a double-edged sword for some in and around Tasiilaq.

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Greenland's residents grapple with global warming
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Greenland's residents grapple with global warming

A woman and child hold hands as they walk on the street in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 15, 2018.

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

A young girl plays on a trampoline in the evening sunshine in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Snow covered mountains rise above the harbour and town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 15, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Blood stains a tarp as a bag of seal offal rests on the ground in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Seal hunter Henrik Josvasson jumps back onto his boat after searching for puffin eggs near the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Young native Greenlanders take advantage of the last rays of daylight on a hill above the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
The setting sun illuminates the face of seal hunter Henrik Josvasson near the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

A band plays music during a late night dance in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

A seal carcass and offal rests on the shoreline of the harbour in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A sled dog chained to a small shelter looks at a tire in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A young girl sits on a stone and smokes in the late evening sunshine above the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A man hangs laundry on a line in the evening sunshine through the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 17, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Seal hunter Henrik Josvasson reaches down to hook a seal he has just shot while hunting near the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Seal hunter Henrik Josvasson takes aim at a seal swimming near the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A small skiff motor past an iceberg in the open ocean near Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 24, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A young boy plays on a trampoline in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A man walks to his boat past a number of abandoned and dry-docked boats in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 15, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
An abandoned house stands on the shore of a fjord near Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A man walks along the road in the evening sunshine through the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 17, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Seal hunter Henrik Josvasson pulls a common loon into his boat while seal hunting near the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

The snow-covered shore is reflected in the still water of a fjord near Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 16, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Fish dry on a rooftop in the late night sunshine in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 17, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

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Julius Nielsen, 40, who lives about 28 miles from Tasiilaq, has been hunting and fishing in the area most of his life.

"There's no snow, it's too hot and the water is not freezing," said Nielsen. A thin, frail ice sheet - or lack of ice - pose a big problem for locals like Nielsen who are not able to go hunting with their sled dogs, or have to take alternate routes.

Continued global warming will accelerate thawing of the ice sheet and contribute to rising sea levels worldwide, scientists have found.

A United Nations report released in October urged nations to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels in order to minimize global sea level rise, reduce flooding and the overall impact of climate change on the world's ecosystems. This would require global net carbon dioxide emissions to fall by about 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels.

Nielsen said that, over the last 10 years, it has become increasingly hard to reach usual hunting grounds with sled dogs due to unpredictable weather, thinning ice or no ice at all.

"Every year we see the glaciers, the landscape, the ice sheet melting and melting," he said. "What we know from our ancestors is almost gone and we cannot take it back. We have to find new tools."

Lars Anker Moeller used to be able to take tourists out on his signature five-day sled dog ride every year when he started working at tour operator Arctic-Dream over a decade ago.

Now, Moeller often has to take his clients on alternate routes because of the lack of ice.

But there is a silver lining.

Ice retreating earlier in the year is freeing access to areas that were previously locked away for longer, and it has allowed Moeller to kick off boat tours for tourists much earlier in the summer season, said the 45-year-old Dane.

"Instead of having three months, we can go (on boats) four months or five months," Moeller.

In addition, fish such as mackerel, usually not found in the icy seawater of Greenland, are now abundant - a boon for the local fishing industry, Moeller and Nielsen said.

Moeller also cited another temporary advantage climate change has brought to his tourism business: People want to see the ice cap before it is too late.

"Go and see the glaciers before they disappear. That's the thing you hear again and again," Moeller said.

A first-of-its-kind survey conducted in December by the University of Copenhagen, the University of Greenland and Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Economic Research sought to paint a picture of how Greenlandic residents view climate change.

The study found that over four in 10 residents believe climate change will harm them, while just one in 10 think they will benefit from it.

"Our results indicate that climate change is personally relevant to most people living here and something which the majority of residents are already experiencing now," Kelton Minor, one of the survey's authors, told Reuters in a phone interview from Nuuk.

For many in Greenland, it is a daily reality. "About eight in 10 residents say that they have directly experienced climate change, over 60 percent think that it's extremely important or very important to them personally... and slightly less than half the population think that climate change will harm them," Minor said.

Despite the new challenges brought by the changing climate, Greenland's residents are known for their resilience.

"The beauty is that Greenlanders have always been good at adapting, so they will survive anyway, whatever will happen," Moeller said.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani Editing by Diane Craft)

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