National Geographic : 2006 Jan
By Gretel Ehrlich Photographs by David McLain "This isn't our weather," Jens says. "It belongs to somebody else." Jens Danielsen kneels on his dogsled as it bumps through the glinting ruins of a frozen sea. "Harru,harru,"he calls out. "Go left, go left." "Atsuk, atsuk. Go right, go right." His voice car ries a note of urgency. The 15 dogs in his team move warily, picking their way between lanes of open water and translucent sheaves of upend ed ice. Despite bitter cold in late March, the ice pans have shattered, making travel dangerous. In a normal winter the ice comes to north western Greenland in September and stays until June. But during the past few years there have been only three or four weeks when the ice has been firm and the hunting good. "The sea ice used to be three feet thick here," Jens says. "Now it's only four inches thick." As big as a bear, with a kind, boyish face and an elegant mind, Jens is a 45-year-old hunter from Qaanaaq, a village of about 650 people at latitude 77°N whose brightly painted houses climb a hillside overlooking a fjord. Along with his brothers-in-law, Mamarut Kristiansen, Gedion Kristiansen, and Tobias Danielsen, who 80 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC . JANUARY 2006 each has his own dog team and sled, he's head ing toward the ice edge on Smith Sound to find walruses, as hunters have done for as long as memory. With 57 dogs to feed, as well as his extended family, he'll need to kill several wal ruses on this trip to bring home any meat. Before leaving Qaanaaq, Jens had studied an ice chart faxed from the Danish Meteorological Institute. It showed vast areas of open water all the way to Siorapaluk, the northernmost indige nous village in the world. This was bad news for the hunters, who planned to travel on the "ice highway" for as long as a week. And it was a grim sign for the ecosystem as well, since it reflected the warming trend scientists call the polar amplification effect. During the past few decades temperatures have risen in Greenland by more than 2°F-twice the global average-and the island's massive ice sheet, almost two miles deep in some places, has been melting faster than at any time during the past 50 years. As the ice and snow cover melt, the Earth absorbs more heat and sea levels rise everywhere.