Greenland is one place enjoying global warming as it returns to their shores from the days of Eric the Red, discoverer and the one who named it Greenland.
Arctic Harvest Global Warming a Boon for Greenland’s Farmers
By Gerald Traufetter
Known for its massive ice sheets, Greenland is feeling the effects of global warming as rising temperatures have expanded the island’s growing season and crops are flourishing. For the first time in hundreds of years, it has become possible to raise cattle and start dairy farms.
Ferdinand Egede would be a perfectly normal farmer if it weren’t for that loud cracking noise. Wearing a plaid lumberjack shirt and overalls, he hurries through the precise rows of his potato field, beads of sweat running down his forehead.
Egede, 49, occasionally picks up a handful of earth and rubs it between his solid fingers, but he isn’t at all satisfied with the results. “It’s much too dry,” he says. “If I don’t get the irrigation going, I’ll lose my harvest.”
The cracking noise has turned into a roar. What’s happening in the sea below Egede’s fields doesn’t square well with what one would normally associate with rural life. The sound is that of an iceberg breaking apart, with pieces of it tumbling into the foaming sea.
Egede, a Greenland potato farmer, has little time to admire the view. He spends most of his days working in the fields and looking at the dramatically steep table mountains at the end of the fjord and the blue and white icebergs in the bay. But today he’s more concerned about a broken water pipe. “The plants need a lot of water,” he says, explaining that the soil here is very sandy, a result of glacier activity.
But he could still have a decent harvest. He pulled 20 tons of potatoes from the earth last summer, and his harvests have been growing larger each year. “It’s already staying warm until November now,” says Egede. And if this is what faraway scientists call the greenhouse effect, it’s certainly a welcome phenomenon, as far as Egede as concerned.
Egede is a pioneer and exactly the kind of man Greenland’s government, which has launched an ambitious program to develop agriculture on the island, likes to see working the land. Sheep and reindeer farmers have already been grazing their herds in southern Greenland for many years.
As part of the new program, cattle will be added to the mix on the island’s rocky meadows, part of a new dairy industry officials envision for Greenland. One day in the near future, the island’s farmers could even be growing broccoli and Chinese cabbage.
There are many reasons for this agricultural boom, the most important being a rise in temperature. For most people on earth, global warming still consists of little more than computer models and a number that seems neither concrete nor threatening: an increase of about 4.5°C (8.1°F) in the average temperature worldwide by the year 2100. But what this will mean for Greenland is already becoming apparent today. In Qaqortoq, for example, the average temperature increased from 0.63°C to 1.93°C in the last 30 years. This, in turn, has added two weeks to the growing season, which now amounts to 120 days. With up to 20 hours of daylight in the summer, those two weeks make a huge difference…
… When he saw the island for the first time, explorer Eric the Red called it “Greenland,” partly to entice settlers to board 25 ships and emigrate there. His advertising slogan was certainly justified. In excavations on Greenland, archaeologists have found ample evidence of rustic banquets where beef and mutton were consumed. Eric the Red owned stables that housed up to 100 cattle each.
Large sections of the northern hemisphere enjoyed a period of unusually mild weather at the time, possibly caused by changes in Atlantic Ocean currents. But the settlers’ meteorological good fortune was short-lived. Climate models based on data from ice cores show that temperatures plunged quite abruptly in the 14th century, triggering a minor ice age and probably driving the Vikings from Greenland. The last known records, handed down over generations, document a wedding in the church of Hvalsøy on Sept. 16, 1408. Today, all that remains of the Vikings’ rural life on Greenland are the foundations of their houses.
But now the mild temperatures of the early Middle Ages have not only returned, but are even warmer than in the days of Eric the Red. “Just a few years ago there was ice where we are now standing,” says Stefan Magnusson, as he sits on his horse and looks down at a stream gushing from the glacier in front of him.