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On the frontline of global warming

Al Jazeera's Nick Clark travels to areas of northern Greenland where massive chunks of ice are falling into the ocean.
Last modified: 8 Aug 2012 14:41
Ilulissat is one of the most stunning places on earth [Nick Clark/Al Jazeera]

This blog is Nick Clark's first dispatch from his journey with a World Wildlife Fund expedition exploring some of the last regions of near-constant sea ice.

Things are different in the far north. This is where your compass goes haywire and you can find yourself in a town where dogs outnumber humans.

In Ilulissat, half-way up the west coast of Greenland, you can buy a cutlet of seal in the morning and see gigantic icebergs calving off a UNESCO world heritage site in the afternoon.

From the hotel dining room, you can get the double whammy: Through the window, the icebergs are swathed in the warm glow of the setting sun as you take on the evening buffet.

Here we are on an environment story, and what's on the menu? No less than the poster child of conservation: the polar bear, smoked and sliced. It is all entirely legitimate it seems; apparently it was killed because it came too close to human habitation. Nothing gets wasted here.

Muttak, or whale meat, also featured on the buffet in various guises, the most intriguing of which was the goulash. Whale, seal and caribou meat are the beef and pork of northern Greenland. I had the muskox, naturally.

This is my second visit to Ilulissat, one of the most stunning places on earth. The UNESCO-protected glacier and ice fiord is the biggest outlet for the massive ice sheet that covers 85 per cent of Greenland.

Every day, 20 tonnes of ice calves into the ocean, enough to provide water to New Yorkers for a year. We flew over the glacier front, where you can see great fissures and cracks created by the wrenching pressure of tens of thousands of square kilometers of ice that is thousands of meters thick, heaving towards the ocean.

We interviewed scientists who are still seeking answers about where the melting ice sheet is heading and how far it will go.

The glacier flows into Disco Bay, and it seems to me the icebergs are more fragmented and spread out than during my last visit. That might not mean anything, but for Greenlanders it is yet another example of how a warming climate is changing their world.

Fifteen years ago, in winter, they used to run their dog sleds across the bay to hunt. You need a boat now. In the 1990s, the number of sled dogs was double the number of humans. Today, the populations are roughly equal. Times are changing.

Today we fly north to join a World Wildlife Foundation expedition which will sail up to the very edge of the sea ice, across Baffin Bay and to the Canadian arctic. We aim to visit the northernmost Inuit communities at the frontline of global warming.