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Greenland Ice Cap. And it is melting . . .
Greenland is the closest land mass to the North Pole. However, there is a relatively small amount of "land" to be seen. Greenland is approximately 86% covered with ice.
Here is a cross section view of the ice cap and land from Thule, on the west coast, to the eastern shore line. Notice that the weight of the ice cap has pushed the land down below sea level. (NOTE: Height scale larger than width scale.)
Around the edges of the icecap are the only areas of land that can support life in these extreme weather conditions. Most of that land is frozen solid, except for the top few inches that thaws for the few months of summer. However, you will see in my pictures, in later chapters, how unique and beautiful some of that life is.
The sea provides much of the food for the approximately 55,000 people who live there. Eighty percent of these people are Inuit, with cultural linkage to the other inhabitants in Arctic Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.
The Viking, Eric-the-Red, discovered and named Greenland over 1000 years ago. Denmark claimed it in 1605 and attempted to make it into a productive colony. In 1979 the Greenlanders were granted Home Rule. See the list of Greenland Resources for more details.
Thule Air Base was built by the U.S. from 1951 to 1953 and has had a variety of both wartime and peace time missions. The support of research and exploration in the Arctic has always been one of the main functions of the base.
The icecap is 665,000 square miles (1,726,400 sq. km.) of glaciers and ice up to 2 miles (3 km.) thick, with an average thickness of about 2 km Weidick (1975). Six-sevenths of Greenland is covered with ice. The ice sheet represents about 11% of the total volume of glacier ice in the world today, an amount equivalent to 6 m of sea-level rise. Drilling cores made in 2004 revealed the ice has accumulated over the last 150,000 years, and bedrock is down approximately 1.5 miles. Within the core samples is the history of air greenhouse gases, temperture and climate changes, and the last ice age from 115,000 to 11,703 years ago.
Click on the picture and you can see a larger and better view of the awesome ice cap. The vertical edge along most of the ice cap seen here is over 100 feet high. A common mistake made by new comers to this area is to misjudge distance. Everything looks much closer than it really is because the air is so clear and there are few land marks on the flat barren land. Once a group of us was going to hike to a glacier we could see clearly from the base and planned a 4 or 5 hour hike there and back. It took us twice that long and we never even made it all the way to the glacier. (Pictures are in another chapter.)
Space-shuttle photograph of southern Greenland. Low-oblique view toward north,
color-visible, 70-mm format, 12/88. All land areas are snow covered in this mid-winter scene.
The interior ice sheet is smooth, and coastal mountains appear rugged. Deep glacier-carved
fjord valleys cut through the coastal mountain ranges. (Thanks NASA Johnson Space Center,
Imagery Services, STS027-32-17).
The ice cap is melting faster than predicted in recent years, apparently due to the global warming trend.
This may surprise you to see how large Greenland is compared to Europe:
© 2007 Larry Rodrigues. All rights reserved.