Rolling Stone Dark Snow Piece on Line
July 29, 2013
The “banned in Boston” dead-tree version of Rolling Stone is hard to find in most places, due to a wrong-headed non-controversy about the cover. But now Jeff Goodell’s story is online, in a special, first-of-its-kind-for-rollingstone media enhanced version, with several embedded videos that the Dark Snow media team produced during its stay in Sisimiut in early July.
One video RS did not use was the one I shot from our Air Greenland chopper as we floated along the 400 foot calving wall of the world’s fastest moving ice-stream, the Ilulisat, or Jakobshavn glacier – see above, and Jeff’s description below.
A few weeks ago, on a blue-sky day on the west coast of Greenland, our helicopter swooped along the calving front of the Jakobshavn glacier, flying dangerously close to a 400-foot-high wall of ancient melting ice that stretches for about six miles across Disko Bay. Jakobshavn is the fastest-moving glacier in the world, and it is sliding into the sea at a top speed of 170 feet a day. How quickly this giant slab of ice and snow – and hundreds like it across the North and South Poles – disappears is the biggest uncertainty in the world of climate science. The faster these glaciers melt, the faster seas will rise, inundating cities throughout the world, and the more unpredictable the world’s weather system is likely to become. Our future is written in ice.
The chopper cruised back and forth at the southern edge of the glacier, looking for a patch of open ground that Jason Box, a 40-year-old glaciologist who is leading the expedition, had identified in satellite photos. Box and the pilot exchanged words on the intercom, then Box gave a thumbs up. The chopper touched down on an unremarkable stretch of rocky tundra about the size of a Walmart parking lot, and Box jumped out, followed by a videographer. “Welcome to New Climate Land,” he announced and then launched into a giddy, erudite stand-up monologue for the camera that would have made his high school science teacher proud. “For thousands of years,” he explained, this spot had been covered by a tall building’s worth of ice and snow. But now, in the past few months, the final traces of that ancient ice had disappeared. “We are likely to be the first human beings to ever stand on this piece of ground,” Box said excitedly.
It was all a tad melodramatic, perhaps. But Box doesn’t shy away from bold strokes. As he sees it, the general public has been betrayed by the reluctance of climate researchers to speak about the dangers of climate change with sufficient urgency. For Box, this has never been a problem. In 2009, he announced the Petermann glacier, one of the largest in Greenland, would break up that summer – a potent sign of how fast the Arctic was warming. Most glaciologists thought he was nuts – especially after the summer passed and nothing happened. In 2010, however, Petermann began to calve; two years later, it was shedding icebergs twice the size of Manhattan. Another example: In early 2012, Box predicted there would be surface melting across the entirety of Greenland within a decade. Again, many scientists dismissed this as alarmist claptrap. If anything, Box was too conservative – it happened a few months later. He also believes that the climate community is underestimating how much sea levels could rise in the coming decades. When I ask him if he thinks the high-end projections of six feet are too low, he doesn’t hesitate: “Shit, yeah.”