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A Rare Greenlandic Snow Penguin Sighting

NEEM CAMP, GREENLAND– The question that I probably get asked most often (besides “did you see any penguins?”) about my trips to the poles is what evidence I’ve seen for climate change. This is always a little hard to answer, because I’m usually going to the coldest places in Greenland and Antarctica, and there isn’t any huge, forehead-slapping-worthy, eureka-exclaiming sign that says “look at me, I’m melting.” If there were, we would all be in serious trouble since these ice sheets are huge–if they melted entirely many of the world’s cities would end up under water. On the periphery of both ice sheets, yes, there is considerable melting, and signs that climate change is occurring, and rapidly, even more so than predicted just a few years ago. But until we get all our cores back to the lab, and spend hours and weeks and months collecting data and then figuring out what those data mean, I haven’t anything as shocking as the Jacksovben glacier hurtling towards the ocean (and again, this is good for everyone!). This is not very exciting, but it’s the way most science works…lots of time spent in the lab, hundreds and hundreds of measurements, to come to one conclusion. That conclusion, together with work on other ice cores from all over the world, is what will really help to start piecing the climate puzzle together. What has it done in the past and what might it do in the future? The NEEM ice core, especially, aims at answering the question of what the earth’s climate was like the last time it got as warm as it is predicted to get (115,000 years ago during the Eemian period).

Current assessments of the past and present climate and predictions of future climate change are based on observations spanning several decades, centuries and millennium, from instrument records, ice cores, tree rings, lake and ocean sediment cores, and geologic records from all over the globe. No one single weather event or season or year is enough evidence to point either way. But having said that, I have at last seen something I never thought I would see in the middle of an ice sheet.

Temperatures have been so warm up at camp that it is actually possible to make snowballs. Usually the snow is too dry and cold to come even close to having something you can satisfactorily pelt at someone, and if you do want to throw something at someone, you have to get down to where the snow has compacted a bit and throw a big snow chunk. The stuff on the surface is usually fluffy or wind-packed and hard and dry. No snowballs. But up at NEEM the temperature got close to and above freezing for a bit, which is unheard of. It makes working and drilling out on the surface difficult…the snow tends to melt and refreeze when you don’t want it to. But it also meant we could have a snowball fight, and Aksel, the ace electrician up at camp from Denmark, started in immediately with building a rather ambitious snow man…

Askel and Adrian start out big with the bottom snowball of a snow ball.

…which turned into a snow penguin after the base snowball for the man proved to be just a little too big. (Sverrir, the Icelandic mechanic in camp, helped Aksel by pushing a load of snow using the machine used to groom the skiway).

Zoe and Kaitlin with the snow penguin.
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