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Guest Column

When it's hot, I just think of the ice cap

By James Pettican
Published February 19, 2008

James Pettican rode a helicopter to the edge of the Greenland ice cap, the front edge of which is visible in the background.

With global warming very much in the news these days, the great Greenland ice cap is playing a major role.

Some years back, I got up close and personal with it, an experience I'll always remember. On a freelance travel writing assignment to Iceland and Greenland, I was offered the chance to fly by helicopter to the edge of the Greenland ice cap. I jumped at it. We flew from Camp Lloyd Airport near Sondre Fiord. Small but surprisingly modern, it was formerly a World War II American air base.

We flew through glacial valleys with milky melt water and over huge granite outcroppings. Finally, we landed in a rocky but flowered alpine meadow and there it was, the edge of the ice cap.

It was about 300 feet high. While we were there, masses of ice broke off and thundered to the base of the formation. It was a sunny afternoon so we stood, feeling the sunshine's warmth on one side and feeling the cold radiating from the huge ice mass on the other side.

The month was September and the year was 1993. I was told then that the ice cap covered 82 percent of Greenland and, at its center, was 10,000 feet thick. Those dimensions have probably changed a bit by now.

Back in the air again, as we departed the ice cap's edge, I looked out and there was ice as far as I could see.

Greenland is a Danish protectorate and its sparse population is a mix of Danes and natives who appear to be very integrated, in schools and most other places.

During our stay, we ventured above the Arctic Circle and my wife, Lois, will never forget her afternoon spent in a Zodiac rubber raft dodging around and in between the icebergs floating in Disko Bay off the town of Ilulissat. We were told that the bay is the birthplace of many Atlantic icebergs, possibly the one the Titanic met up with.

Now, I think of how Florida may be linked to the Greenland ice cap since, as it melts, the seas will rise and many low-lying islands and seacoasts will be threatened, if not eventually eliminated.

Remembering my time at the ice cap's edge somehow serves as a sort of counterpoint to our hot, oppressive Florida summers.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.


Greenland's ice

The Greenland ice cap, the second-largest ice mass in the world behind Antarctica, is thinning. Scientists have theorized that global warming or changes in snowfall amounts and ocean currents could be among the reasons for the melt. If the entire ice sheet melted, scientists say average sea levels could rise more than 20 feet.

[Last modified February 18, 2008, 21:00:02]

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