“Greenland didn’t just feel like it was warming – it felt like it was melting” – Suffolk adventuress experiences climate change first-hand
- Credit: Lucy Shepherd
Local adventuress Lucy Shepherd has witnessed the devastating impact of climate change on the Greenland ice sheet, and says that drastic action is needed to slow the march of global warming
The Greenland ice sheet covers an area the size of Alaska. Spanning 80% of the surface of Greenland, it is the world's second largest body of ice, smaller only than the Antarctic ice sheet. And the bad news is - it's melting.
This summer, the Greenland ice sheet has experienced a historic melt event, with 11 billion tonnes of ice disappearing from the area in just one day. Months of record-high temperatures have seen the expansive ice sheet melting at an unprecedented rate, far exceeding the normal levels for the glacier's annual summer melt. If the ice sheet were to melt entirely, it would result in a 23-foot rise in global sea levels - enough to threaten coastal cities the world over.
In June, Suffolk adventuress Lucy Shepherd had the chance to witness this alarming melt event first hand, when she travelled to Greenland on an assignment with television production company ITN productions.
"I'm no stranger to the remote Arctic wilderness but this was my first time in Greenland," the explorer told us. "I have spent almost every year returning to somewhere above the Arctic Circle on a variety of different expeditions and every year I have been reminded about the warming climate. This year, Greenland didn't just feel like it was warming - it felt like it was melting."
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The dramatic change to the landscape was clear before Lucy even set foot on the icecap. "To get to our base camp, we flew high above the ice cap in our helicopter over the eastern side of Greenland. This was my first glimpse of the effect that the hot weather was having on the ice. I saw pools of water on top of the icecap, and in comparison to what has been happening in recent weeks, this was just a start.
I jumped off the helicopter and my feet sunk straight into the soft snow. The hole caused by my boots filled with water immediately. I knew then that the trip was going to be a lot warmer than expected."
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Lucy has previously spent a lot of time above the Arctic Circle, visiting the Norweigan archipelago of Svalbard, the Finnmarksvidda plateau and areas around the Norway-Russia border. While she has seen conditions changing gradually over the years, this year really felt like something of a tipping point. Instead of reaching for her warm down jacket and her insulated sleeping bag, she instead found herself searching for her sun cream and opting for a lighter sleeping bag liner. This assignment saw Lucy spend 10 days in one fixed location in Greenland, and the change that she noticed over this short time was simply shocking.
"The difference between arriving and departing was impossible not to notice. From the glaciers, there were huge waterfalls gushing in every direction, and these were just getting bigger and bigger as each day went on.
Every summer, the earth's North Pole is tilted towards the sun, causing parts of the Greenland ice sheet to warm up and melt. This normally happens around the edges of the ice sheet, and fresh snowfall helps to balance this melt. This year, however, the rate of this summer melting activity is far outside of normal levels, with scientists warning that it is in line with the very worst-case scenarios for the year 2070.
"You can't help but feel the effect that humanity is having on these remote locations when you are in them" says Lucy. "You can see it happening beneath your feat - snow turning to slush, heat so intense that I'd be wearing a vest top, having to re-pitch camp every couple of days because the snow melts the area around it. When I'm in the wilderness with my team, we have to adapt to an ever-changing environment in order to survive, so we all feel a real respect for our surroundings."
For many of us, though, the Arctic Circle is worlds away, and probably doesn't factor into our daily thoughts at all. As a modern city dweller, it's easy to feel disconnected from nature, and to adopt an 'out of sight, out of mind' attitude towards climate change. But if we don't all change our habits, the issue won't remain out of sight for much longer. From forest fires to flooding, climate change is already having a devastating impact on the world around us, and is only set to worsen in the years to come.
"I often find myself frustrated with the general apathy and lack of engagement when it comes to climate change, and I believe that more of us need to get out into the natural world in order to appreciate it and have a shift in consciousness," says Lucy.
"The climate change conversation can be a depressing one, which can mean that people prefer not to discuss it. But we need to think of all of the things we can do as an individual, as families and as small businesses. The changes in how we behave as a society will pass up the chain and the larger companies will be force to react. As a country, we are fantastic at adapting and taking on changes. Just think of single use plastic for example. It has quickly become taboo to use plastic straws and single-use cutlery. We can make the change happen together if we chip in and tackle this mammoth problem as one."
To find out more about Lucy's adventures, visit her website: www.lucyshepherd.net
Five top tips for greener living
- Invest in a reusable water bottle Get in the habit of bringing this with you every time you leave the house, and you'll no longer be tempted to buy bottled drinks when you're out and about - saving you money, too!
- Fall in love with leftovers Each year, around 18 million tonnes of food ends up in UK landfills. Make sure that good, edible food doesn't end up in the bin by embracing leftovers - freeze them for a later date or take them into work for lunch the next day.
- Try meat-free Mondays By now, most of us are well aware of the environmental impact of eating meat and dairy. But if you're not ready to go completely veggie, just a meat-free day or two per week can still make a difference.
- Go market shopping Supermarket fruit and veg often comes unnecessarily wrapped in plastic. Ditch this packaging by picking up your weekly fruit and veg from a market stall - just make sure you bring a tote bag or bag-for-life with you!
- Bars, not bottles You can now get shampoo, conditioner and body wash in solid bars. This eliminates the need for plastic bottles, helping you to reduce your plastic waste.