When Irish mountaineer Frank Nugent hiked to the top of a Greenland ice cap last week, he was shocked to observe the extent of the thaw writes Lorna Siggins.
Nugent, who has been to Greenland before, observed rapidly melting ice and snow on the summit of the Disko island ice cap, which is known as one of the top “ice” destinations in Greenland.
Greenland’s once mile-thick ice sheet began melting in the mid 19th century, but scientists reported late last year in the journal Nature that the rate has accelerated by 50 per cent since the start of the industrial era – and 30 per cent since the 20th century alone.
Nugent has been observing the impact at first hand as a member of the crew of the 17m (56 ft) Ilen, Ireland’s oldest sail trading ketch which set sail for Greenland earlier this summer.
The Ilen, now en route home to Ireland, is one of two Irish yachts which have been north of the Arctic Circle and visiting west Greenland coast communities over the past few weeks.
The 15m aluminium Killary Flyer, skippered by Irish adventurer Jamie Young, set sail from the Killary fjord on the Galway-Mayo border in early June as part of a two-year Dutch-Irish film project to document the impact of climate change.
“It is clear from talking to anyone here that the country is adapting to massive changes environmentally, socially and in their drive for independence,” film-maker/sailor Vincent Monahan of Duck Upon Rock productions, who is on board Killary Flyer, says.
While there is a serious concern, there is also “generally a positive outlook as people look for solutions”, he notes.
Since leaving Ireland on June 1st, the Killary Flyer has sailed well over 3,000 nautical miles, visiting towns, villages, outposts, and fjords up as far north as Disko Bay,” Monahan says.
Highlights included tracking humpback whales in the ice fjord at Illulisat on western Greenland, while the crew also witnessed calving glaciers at the end of the 20 nautical mile-long Evighedsfjord, Monahan says.
“The true highlight was simply the people of Greenland,” Monahan says, and their determination to maintain a strong connection with their natural environment.
Coincidentally, the crews of the Ilen and Killary Flyer met each other in mid-July in the Greenland capital of Nuuk.
The crew of the Killary Flyer were “queuing for a Danish pastry” when some lilting Irish accents began drifting across the canteen as the Ilen crew trickled in”, Monahan recalls.
The Killary Flyer crew were struck by how “immaculately restored” the Ilen, built by round-world sailor Conor O’Brien almost a century ago, looks.
“It was quite special having the two Irish boats together in Greenland side by side,” Monahan says.