Global warming |  Greenland, a window to the future

Global warming | Greenland, a window to the future

Global warming |  Greenland, a window to the future

Climate change affects the poles in particular. In Greenland, two phenomena recently showed unexpected aspects of global warming: a sand export project and an unusually behaving polar bear subspecies.

Posted at 12:00

Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault
The print

The Mecca of sand


PHOTO MARTIN CÍGLER, FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Sermilik Fjord is one of the sites targeted by the island’s government as a future sand mine for export.

100 km south of Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, is the Sermilik Fjord. Protected from storms by its narrowness, it is one of dozens of sites targeted by the island’s government as a future sand mine for export.

Sermilik alone could increase the amount of sand exported worldwide by 3%. “With the melting of the glaciers, there is a lot of sediment accumulation on the coasts of Greenland,” explains Mette Bendixen, a political scientist at McGill University who has been collaborating with Greenland on this topic for several years.


PHOTO ASGER MELDGAARD, SUPPLIED BY METTE BENDIXEN

Mette Bendixen, a political scientist at McGill University

There is a lot of interest in setting up a sand industry in Greenland. It could be a boon of climate change for the country.

Mette Bendixen, a political scientist at McGill University

In mid-August, in the diary Sustainability of natureM.myself Bendixen added a key element to the reflection: a survey showing that over 80% of Greenland’s population is in favor of exporting sand and that only 8% is opposed. “It surprised us, because in other mining cases, public opinion is more divided,” said Ms.myself Bendixen. It must be said that the unemployment rate is high in Greenland and the level of education is low. So economic development through natural resources is attractive. Greenland is responsible for 8% of all sediments that flow into the oceans each year.

The bases of sand


PHOTO SUPPLIED BY GEUS

A Greenland river throws its sediments into the sea.

On Earth, 23 times more sand is now used than in 1900 to construct buildings and other infrastructure, according to a study by M.myself Bendixen published in 2019 in Sustainability of nature. In 2017, the world demand for sand was 9550 million tons, worth almost 100 billion US.

China is the largest producer of sand in the world, accounting for more than 20% of total sales, while the United States is the largest exporter, between 400 and 500 million tons per year. Canada is a major U.S. customer for sand, with imports ranging between 100 and 300 million tons since 2010, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Sustainability.

Oil and mines

Last year, Greenland banned oil exploration and uranium mining on its territory. Still, the population is not strongly opposed to the extraction of mineral resources, according to Rasmus Leander Nielsen, a political scientist at the University of Greenland.

“There has been a lot of pressure from environmental NGOs for Greenland to give up oil exploration, for example. But it took Siumut, the traditionally ruling party, which it lost last year before it became a reality. ”


PHOTOS FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF GREENLAND WEBSITE

Rasmus Leander Nielsen, political scientist at the University of Greenland

The population wants economic growth and with the melting of the glaciers there are very interesting fields. Greenlanders don’t want rich countries, which have benefited from industrialization, tell them what to do.

Rasmus Leander Nielsen, political scientist at the University of Greenland

“That said, he adds, the majority are opposed to some projects that can damage existing businesses. ”

Siumut has ruled the island almost continuously since the start of the Greenlandic Parliament in 1979. The party currently in power, Inuit Ataqatigiit, is a pro-independence party. It previously ruled the island between 2009 and 2013. Denmark still finances around half of the Greenland government budget, but that amount is frozen at 2009 levels, under a delegation agreement that made Greenland an almost independent country.

polar bears


PHOTO SUPPLIED BY KRISTIN LAIDRE

A polar bear of the population studied by Kristin Laidre

In southeastern Greenland, Kristin Laidre has found a polar bear subspecies that has surprising behavior: they hunt from glaciers, instead of using sea ice as a hunting ground. “It means they can hunt even if there is no more ice floating on the sea,” explains the University of Washington biologist, who described her research in late June in the journal. Science.


PHOTOS FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON WEBSITE

Kristin Laidre, a biologist at the University of Washington, Greenland

“We have been observing their behavior for ten years and have just shown that they constitute a genetically isolated population. The several hundred animals in this group weigh 20% less – 100 kg – than the average of other polar bears and have fewer cubs. This tells University of Alberta polar bear scientist Andrew Derocher that this is a group in its last few miles. “You have to see what they hunt from the glaciers,” says Derocher. If they are emaciated, it means that they do not feed them much. ”

The sea level


PHOTO VADIM NEFEDOV, GETTY IMAGES

Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

The glaciers of Greenland are much smaller than those of Antarctica. So far, they have contributed almost as much to sea level rise: between 21 and 24 cm more than in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA).

A recent study by the Geological Survey of Greenland and Denmark (GEUS) estimates that by 2100, Greenland could add another 15-20 cm to sea level. Climate change of naturethe study estimates that even as greenhouse gas emissions decline and temperatures stabilize about 2 degrees above the pre-industrial era average, melting Greenland glaciers will cause sea levels to rise by 27 cm over the next few centuries.


PHOTO SUPPLIED BY GEUS

Summer station to measure the melting of glaciers in Greenland

This is a lower estimate than another study, published in 2019 in PNAS, which calculated that the melting of Greenland’s glaciers would raise sea levels from 330 to 490 cm by 2100. That said, the GEUS study finds that the figure of 27 cm corresponds to the average melting between 2000 and 2019. If you use the year with the greatest melting, 2012, the sea level will rise by only 78 cm with the glaciers of Greenland.

Learn more

  • 50,000
    Inuit population of Greenland, out of a total of 56,000

    SOURCE: University of Greenland

  • 34
    Annual melting of Greenland glaciers, in billions of tons, from 1992 to 2001

    SOURCE: NOAA

    247
    Annual melting of Greenland’s glaciers, in billions of tons, from 2012 to 2016

    SOURCE: NOAA

  • 51
    Annual melting of Antarctic glaciers, in billions of tons, from 1992 to 2001

    SOURCE: NOAA

    199
    Annual melting of Antarctic glaciers, in billions of tons, from 2012 to 2016

    SOURCE: NOAA

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