Climate Report from ‘The Land That Never Melts’

by Bill Chameides | August 13th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 4 comments

View of a mountain glacier from Auyuittuq National Park.

Travels with TheGreenGrok — The latest dispatch in a series on interesting places my deanly duties are whisking me off to.

You don’t need a climate scientist to which know which way the
temperature goes.

Scientists say [pdf] that we live in a warming world; they have concluded that “warming is unequivocal.” Scientists say that the amount of warming is unprecedented for at least the last 1,000 years and perhaps for the last 1,500 years or more. But there are those who question these conclusions; they don’t trust the data or the methods scientists use to calculate global trends from the data. Some don’t even trust the scientists and question their motives.

Such attitudes don’t make sense to me, but then I’m a scientist so I guess my opinion would not carry much weight among the skeptics.

But hey, if you don’t want to take my word for it, how about the word of non-scientists who have seen the climate change before their eyes? Which non-scientists, you ask. I present for your edification two non-scientists from northern Canada — Billy Arnaquq and Robert Joamie.

Billy, one of guides, has lived in this area his whole life and he’s seen big changes.

Our last stops on our way to Greenland were at the town of Pangnirtung (population about 1,300) and the neighboring Auyuittuq National Park, both located on Baffin Island just south of the Arctic Circle. (See map below.)

Auyuittuq is an Inuktitut word meaning “the land that never melts,” and according to the locals, it has always been called that because of its many glaciers.

It’s a name that no longer quite fits because the park is now a land that is not only melting but melting faster and faster. Says who? Billy.

Billy, a resident of Pangnirtung who has lived in the area his whole life, was the chief guide on our visit to the park.

Like his ancestors, who he claims have lived here for the past 4,000 years, he feels a very strong connection to the land of Baffin Island.

And he knows his homeland; it’s a knowledge that is informed by a tradition that hands down the history of people and place by word of mouth from one generation to the next.

Billy is not a climate scientist, but he can tell you that his “land that never melts” is melting.

Our guide Robert, who grew up in the area, co-starred with Jason Scott Lee in Map of the Human Heart, a 1993 movie about a chartist who falls in love while on assignment to map uncharted regions of the Arctic. Robert, now back in Pangnirtung serving as a guide, says he’s seen climate change first-hand.

Our guide Robert, who grew up in the area, co-starred with Jason Scott Lee in Map of the Human Heart, a 1993 movie about a chartist who falls in love while on assignment to map uncharted regions of the Arctic. Robert, now back in Pangnirtung serving as a guide, says he’s seen climate change first-hand.

Glaciers that his mother says used to be permanent fixtures on the mountaintops are now gone. The Barnes Ice Cap — one of a pair of massive glaciers in the park thought to be the last remnants of the Laurentide glacier [pdf] that covered all of Canada and much of the northern United States during the Ice Age — is melting, and melting at an ever faster rate.

“A few years ago the glacier was receding one or two meters a year,” Billy explains. “Now it’s melting five or more meters each year.”

During our hike in the park, I pointed to a shiny glacier atop a nearby mountain, and Billy shook his head.

“That one’s going fast,” he said. “You can forget about that one.”

Our other guide Robert is not a climate scientist either, but he knows the climate is changing. He remembers when wintertime temperatures would go below -40 or even -45 Celsius. “Now it never gets below -35 Celsius around here.”

You might say he’s an eyewitness.

“It’s climate change,” he says, not knowing that he doesn’t need to convince me.

The polls tell us that there are lots of folks out there who reject the scientific evidence and refuse to accept that the globe is warming.

I have yet to meet a person in these parts who has any doubt about climate change. Because they know something is happening and they know what it is: the climate times are a’ changing.

Pangnirtung and Auyuittuq National Park are located on the Pangnirtung Fjord on Baffin Island’s Cumberland Peninsula, just south of the Arctic Circle.

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  1. Ken Towe
    Aug 17, 2010

    Yes, it is clear that there has been warming in the Arctic over the last 30 years. Yes, there are those who don’t believe it. But, skepticism (one basis of sound science, but now a pejorative term of derision?) of this undeniable warming is not what is at issue for some scientists. At issue is the direct relationship between the steadily increasing CO2, clearly of human origin, and this phase of warming. It’s not the GW it’s the A in AGW. Your Arctic guides and living relatives are not old enough to remember similar warmings that took place in the first 30-40 years of the last century. Read Drinkwater’s 2006 paper about the Arctic 1920s and 30s [[…]/20060406_03.pdf] as well as the brief 1922 Weather Bureau report on the changing Arctic []. This older phase of warming was not restricted to the Arctic. 1921 was the warmest year on record in the US (until NCDC lowered it). Record temperatures were set in 10 states; all still stand today. 1934 was the second highest with 10 other states setting records that still stand. The point is that the amount of warming for the two periods is about the same as is the rate of change. It’s certainly OK to chronicle the current warming but it would be better and less alarming if it were put into some historical perspective. BTW… Are the locals up there complaining because the winters aren’t as harsh and the growing conditions are better? Since sea ice reduces light levels below it primary productivity below it is limited. An early melting might even be beneficial to subsistence fishing?

    • Bill Chameides
      Sep 14, 2010

      Ken: The people living in this part of the world have been there for 100s of, indeed perhaps 1,000 years. They have a rich oral tradition. The glaciers they now see disappearing have been there for as long as their oral history goes back. Robert specifically told me that his mother, who was alive and quite cognizant in the 1930s, saw the very same glaciers that are now either gone or rapidly melting. The area is called by the indigenous people the “land that never melts.” Get real, dude.

  2. MattN
    Aug 15, 2010

    You should check this out then: “On the one hand, we conclude unequivocally that the evidence for a ”long-handled” hockey stick (where the shaft of the hockey stick extends to the year 1000 AD) is lacking in the data. The fundamental problem is that there is a limited amount of proxy data which dates back to 1000 AD; what is available is weakly predictive of global annual temperature. Our backcasting methods, which track quite closely the methods applied most recently in Mann (2008) to the same data, are unable to catch the sharp run up in temperatures recorded in the 1990s, even in-sample.”

    • Bill Chameides
      Aug 25, 2010

      MattN: As I stated in my post: “You don’t need to be climate scientist to know which way the temperature goes.” And you don’t need a hockey stick to know that the glaciers that have been there for centuries are now melting.

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