The Fate of Greenland : Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change
“This is the best accounting of abrupt climate change available—best because the science is on-target and nuanced and the storytelling is superb.” —Peter Kareiva, Chief Scientist and Vice President, The Nature Conservancy
“While abrupt changes in the Earth's climate system occur with some frequency, the drivers of these dramatic events are poorly understood. Nowhere are such occurrences more prominent than in Greenland, where several abrupt changes have occurred during the period since the arrival of Norse settlers in the 10th century. In this accessible, illuminating, and richly illustrated book, several prominent climate scientists focus on the case of Greenland to explore the causes and consequences of rapid climate change events.”—Oran R. Young, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California at Santa Barbara
“This book captures a unique view behind the scenes at a special time in climate science. It is an important work for several reasons: it connects past and potential future climate shifts that have large societal impacts to the mechanics of how the climate system works, and provides a glimpse of the personal detective work the authors have each engaged in as they and others have constructed our present understanding. It also captures well-informed views of how climate changes have worked in the recent past from the perspectives of scientists who have been at the forefront of unraveling aspects of this system. The Fate of Greenland is an excellent reference for establishing a working view of the planet on climate and glacial timescales. This is the right book, with the right tone, to bring this subject to a general audience.” —Mark Fahnestock, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire
Viewed from above, Greenland offers an endless vista of whiteness interrupted only by scattered ponds of azure-colored melt water. Ninety percent of Greenland is covered by ice; its ice sheet, the largest outside Antarctica, stretches almost 1,000 miles from north to south and 600 miles from east to west. But this stark view of ice and snow is changing—and changing rapidly. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting; the dazzling, photogenic display of icebergs breaking off Greenland’s rapidly melting glaciers has become a tourist attraction. The Fate of Greenland documents Greenland’s warming with dramatic color photographs and investigates Greenland’s climate history for clues about what happens when climate change is abrupt rather than gradual.
Geological evidence suggests that Greenland has already been affected by two dramatic changes in climate: the Medieval Warm Period, when warm temperatures in Northern Europe enabled Norse exploration and settlements in Greenland; and the Little Ice Age that followed and apparently wiped out the settlements. Greenland’s climate past and present could presage our climate future. Abrupt climate change would be cataclysmic: the melting of Greenland’s ice shelf would cause sea levels to rise twenty-four feet worldwide; lower Manhattan would be underwater and Florida’s coastline would recede to Orlando.
The planet appears to be in a period of acute climate instability, exacerbated by carbon dioxide we pour into the atmosphere. As this book makes clear, it is in all of our interests to pay attention to Greenland.
About the Authors
Philip Conkling is Founder and President of the Island Institute in Maine.
Richard Alley, a glaciologist, is Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences and Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State.
Wallace Broecker, an oceanographer, is Newberry Professor of Geology at Columbia University and a winner of the Crafoord Prize in Geosciences.
George Denton, a geologist, is Professor of Geological Sciences and Quaternary Studies at the University of the Maine.