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Last Updated: Monday, 17 September 2007, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Changing Arctic: A diary from Greenland
Doreen Walton (BBC)
By Doreen Walton
BBC, West Greenland

Ship (Daniel Heaf)
The week is being spent on a boat - a mixture of lectures and visits
Greenland is experiencing some rapid changes - environmentally and economically. I stayed in Greenland for a week, to hear what local people thought about the climate change debate. I also reported on the scramble for territory and resources that is taking place as the Arctic melts.


In Qassiarsuk, a small town in southern Greenland, the island lives up to its name, with gently sloping green hills. People grow potatoes and farm sheep here.

Greenland ice. Image: Daniel Heaf
Changing temperatures are forcing locals to adapt

Community leaders told me that hunters living close by complain the weather is more unpredictable these days and catching fish and seals is harder. But warmer temperatures are also bringing some new opportunities here.

Buuti Pederson who lives in the nearby town of Qaqortok told me it's easier to grow bigger potatoes, and they're fresh rather than having been imported.

Everyone I spoke to described the changes they are experiencing as scary, but Simon Simonsen, mayor of Qaqortok is hoping his people can adapt and change their way of life.

That's it for now from Greenland. I hope you enjoyed the brief visit.


Professor Minik Rosing is a striking figure. He's a geologist from Greenland and very tall with a booming voice.

Professor Minik Rosing (Daniel Heaf)
Some of the oldest evidence of life on Earth is in Greenland

He strode across the rock and snow at Isua, in the interior of southwest Greenland, and we scrambled to keep up. We'd travelled by helicopter to see the rocks that hold the earliest known traces of life on the planet which Professor Rosing discovered.

You can hear how he describes Greenland as a book holding the entire history of the planet from 3,800 million years ago until today. On the way back we flew over the Greenland ice sheet which holds enough water to raise global sea levels by seven metres if it melts completely.

In parts, from above, the ice is somehow like a sleeping dinosaur. Grey and cracked like scales, it looks prehistoric.

Ice landscape (BBC)
"Grey and cracked like scales"
The helicopter buzzed close in on soaring ice cliffs and a giant circular hole, bright blue walls reaching deep into the glacier.

I asked Professor Rosing what looking at it made him think. "It doesn't make me think at all. You just sit there and look in amazement. It's just so impressive, so overwhelming."


Nuuk is the capital of Greenland. I wasn't onshore for long but saw two very different snapshots of life. First I was told an old Inuit story. Makka Kleist is an actor, storyteller, director and playwright. I asked her how old the stories she told were.

"Well, as long as we have been called Inuit and I think we can go back about 10,000 years. We only got our written language in the 1850s and before that all the knowledge had to be passed on orally."

Peter Libert (BBC)
Peter Lyberth is a rapper

Now life is changing in Greenland, Ms Kleist thinks people can still learn from the old stories.

"They're universal stories telling people how to become a whole human being," she said.

Peter Lyberth tells very different stories. He's a rapper who writes about suicide, child abuse and alcoholism in Greenland. Peand-el, his stage name, says he writes from his own experience of growing up here. "Yelling and crying and rapping from my guts. I put in all the emotions: anger, sadness, loneliness," he said.

He believes it's important to talk about the problems in Greenland. You can listen to both stories.


"The fight for a man in Greenland is very hard," said the country's foreign minister. Aleqa Hammond is beautiful and very tough-looking. Sometimes she goes polar bear hunting.

Hounds (BBC)
Changes ahead are predicted by scientists for all Arctic life
I wouldn't want to fight her for anything. Ms Hammond says there are more women in Greenland than men.

"Equality is something we don't talk about because equality has always existed. There is no such thing as the woman who feels like she has lesser rights than men and earns less than men. This has never existed here. We don't have a word for 'he', 'she' and 'it'. So it means that all beings are equal," she told me.

Ms Hammond explained that the original Inuit god was also female, Sassumap Arnaa, the great woman of the depths who lives at the bottom of the sea. This all makes Greenland very appealing to me, and there are other reasons that make many people look at this region with envious eyes.

Greenland (BBC)

The scramble for Arctic territory is putting the island at the centre of discussions about the exploitation of resources. There are new opportunities here - together with the challenges that will come to indigenous people and their traditional lifestyles.

Together with Denmark and the Faroe Islands, Greenland is researching a possible claim to the North Pole area.


I woke up with icebergs outside my window, or porthole. There were hundreds of them, small, big as ships, and giants like mountains. In the middle of the night I heard a loud bang and thought we had hit one.

Dr Bob Corell reassured me there was no need to worry about icebergs because the ship was ice-strengthened and the crew kept watch all night.

Bergs (BBC)
Icebergs seem to be everywhere - big ones and small ones

Dr Corell is an American scientist who's chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), a group which brings together the entire scientific community, the eight Arctic nations and six major indigenous peoples' organisations.

The icebergs come from the Ilulissat glacier, and Dr Corell says that the berg that sank the Titanic was most likely to have come from there.

He has been studying the Ilulissat glacier for more than 40 years and says ice is coming off it into the sea at an accelerating rate; and he has never seen melting like this before.

He's one of a number of scientists who believe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been conservative in its predictions about the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.


Ilulissat has never had visitors quite like this before. It's a small town of about 5,000 people and at least half as many sled dogs on the west coast of Greenland. Religious leaders from all over the world have come here at the invitation of the head of the Orthodox church, Patriarch Bartholemew.

Prayer on boat (Daniel Heaf)
A silent prayer in the Arctic

He's known as the "Green Patriarch", because of his interest in environmental issues, and he has brought people here to pray for the planet and to attend a week-long conference on climate change.

On a ship among enormous icebergs, they stood in a row, robed and in silence, with leaders from the Inuit and Saami communities. The most surreal moment for me was when a small boat floated past with an Inuit choir singing on deck.

I was speaking to the Bishop of Greenland, Sofie Petersen. "It's a love song to our country," she said; and she then started to sing softly herself. I'll attach an audio report to the page so you can hear her, and also hear what the Pope's travelling Cardinal Theodore McCarrick thinks about the carbon footprint we've all produced by coming here.

Doreen Walton's reports from Greenland are featured this week on The World Today on the BBC World Service

Diary: The Amazon rainforest
19 Jul 06 |  Science/Nature
Polar people 'will need to adapt'
09 Nov 04 |  Science/Nature
Arctic heads into warmer future
02 Nov 04 |  Science/Nature


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