My documentary on the impacts of climate change in the Greenlandic village of Uummannaq aired in December on the Deutsche Welle international radio program Living Planet. I recorded and produced this report while working as the on-board journalist during the 2013 Students on Ice Arctic Expedition.
Located on a small island off the Greenland coast, 600 km (372 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, Uummannaq is one of many Inuit communities in the North that are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Not only is the massive Greenlandic ice sheet melting, sea ice is starting to disappear too. This is causing serious difficulties for those working in the local fishing industry who depend on reliable sea ice conditions for their daily catch.
Traditionally, fishers here worked on a dog sled on the sea ice in winter and by boat when the ice melted in the summer. But now, as the ice is melting earlier and becoming less stable, there is a period of several months in the spring when the ice is not strong enough to hold dog sleds but can also not be penetrated by small fishing boats. This is leading to a host of social and economic problems for the small community.
Click here to listen to the documentary. The text of the story with accompanying photos is available on the DW web site.
Ottawa and other cities in eastern Canada have been experiencing abnormally cold temperatures this past week. Last Wednesday was the coldest day in 8 years dropping down to a downright bone-chilling -30 degrees C. Meanwhile Britain is suffering through some of it’s worst winter snow storms in years. How can this be happening when climate scientists tell us the world is warming?
The first thing to remember is that there is a difference between climate and weather. What we are interested in are long-term trends not isolated weather events. And the long term trends are clear. The last decade saw average global temperatures that were the warmest ever recorded. 2012 was the warmest ever in the continental U.S. Extreme weather such as drought, heat waves, flooding and wildfires are also on the rise. Then there is the Arctic ice cap, which shrank to it’s smallest size ever recorded this past summer.
Second, as it turns out, the recent spate of cold weather may very well be related to climate change. Here’s how: by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system.
A recent study, by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ties rapid Arctic climate change to high-impact, extreme weather events in the U.S. and Europe. The jet stream, the study says, is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges. Weather systems are progressing more slowly, raising the chances for long-duration extreme events, like droughts, floods, and heat waves.
“[The] tendency for weather to hang around longer is going to favor extreme weather conditions that are related to persistent weather patterns,” said Francis, the study’s lead author.
Check out the video above to see a visual depiction of how the jet stream works and how it is being altered by human-caused climate change.