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Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Greenland: Human Settlement has been Dictated by a Changing Climate

Melting of the Arctic

The Arctic sea ice is melting at a record rate.

“The year 2016 was the warmest year globally since records began in 1880!

By Dr. John J Hidore

January 25, 2017—–Since Greenland was first settled by arctic people and Europeans, climate has played a huge part in the ups and downs of the human population. The first European colonization took place during a relatively warm period in the Arctic. The global climate during the years 950 AD to 1250 AD is known as the Little Climatic Optimum. Weather was unusually warm for several centuries and human settlements spread toward the Arctic. Iceland and Greenland were settled as were other islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Eric the Red is believed to have discovered Greenland in 982 AD. In 984 AD, the Norse founded the colony of Osterbygd on the island. Evidence of agriculture and other activities serve to indicate what the climate was like at this time. While it was a cold land, it supported enough vegetation (dwarf willow, birch, bush berries, pasture land) to make settlement possible. The settlers brought cattle and sheep that not only survived but thrived for a considerable period. The Norse established two colonies and began to farm. The outposts thrived and regular communications existed between Greenland and Iceland.

The Little Ice Age and the End of Norse Settlements

Between 1250 AD and 1450 AD climate deteriorated over wide areas around the North Atlantic in what is known as The Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age was the coldest period in historic times. Areas bordering the North Atlantic Ocean experienced drastic cooling. Mountain glaciers expanded and in some cases reached their maximum extent since the end of the Pleistocene glaciation. Iceland’s population declined. Greenland became isolated from outside contact, with extensive drift ice preventing boats reaching the settlements. Grain that grew there in the tenth century would no longer grow. In Europe storms resulted in the formation of the Zuider Zee, and the excessively wet, damp conditions led to a high incidence of the disease, St. Anthony’s Fire (ergotism).

The little ice age marked the end of the Norse settlements in Greenland that had begun in the tenth century. After flourishing for more than 400 years the colonies disappeared about 1410 AD. A Danish archaeological expedition to the sites in 1921 found evidence that deteriorating climate must have played a role in the population’s demise. Excavations show that at first the soil permitted burying bodies at considerable depth. Later graves became progressively shallower. Some graves were in permafrost that had formed since the burial. Tree roots entangled in the coffins showed the graves were not originally in frozen ground. It also showed that the permafrost had moved progressively higher. Examination of skeletons indicated that food was becoming more and more scarce. Most remains were deformed or dwarfed. There was clear evidence of rickets. All the evidence points to a climate that grew progressively cooler, leading eventually to the isolation and extinction of the settlements. It is not certain the colonies failed due to climatic reasons, but it seems likely.

By 1516 the settlements had practically been forgotten. In 1540 a voyager reported seeing signs of the settlements, but no signs of life. The settlers had perished.

Resettlement of Greenland

There was no European settlement on the island of Greenland for 200 years. In 1721 Denmark sent an expedition to the island to form an outpost, starting the Greenland resettlement.

Glacier National Park

Global warming is causing disappearing glaciers.

The Warming of Greenland

In recent centuries the climate of the Arctic basin has warmed a great deal. The average temperature over land in the Arctic for the year ending in September 2015 reached the highest since recording began in 1900. The temperature was 2.3 degrees F above the mean for the last 114 years .

The year 2016 was the warmest year globally since records began in 1880. The average temperature for 2016 was 58.69 ºF. Temperatures on Greenland followed suit. In June at Nuuk, the capitol city, the temperature reached 75º F (24º C). As temperatures continued to warm the population of the island has been growing. The current population is now above 55,000. Many small settlements have sprung up and agriculture is returning. Until recent years fishing was the primary industry, but now tourism is a growing source of income. Unemployment is relatively high, but with increasing temperatures and more varied employment sources the population is expected to continue to grow. Human settlement in Greenland has been dictated by a changing climate!

Climate change effects Greenland!


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Greenland: Mining of Uranium and Rare Earth Metals

Greenland

Greenland: The long term effects of mining in Greenland could be devastating to the environment and the economy.(Photo credit: Beechwood Photography)

Uranium waste from mining contains radioactive decay products which have the potential to effect surface, ground water, soil, and air quality in Greenland for thousands of years.

By Lin Smith

Greenland’s Ice Sheet
November 1o, 2013—Greenland is a semi-autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark. It is located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Greenland’s ice sheet is approximately 660,000 sq. miles, which is about 80% of its surface, second only to the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Its thickness averages more than one mile. The current ice sheet in Greenland is approximately 110,000 years old and there has been a continuous ice sheet for over 18 million years. Greenland’s ice sheet contains valuable records and, according to Wikipedia, the data collected from the ice sheet is “greater than in any other natural recorder of the climate, such as tree rings or sediment layers.” But according to the satellite monitoring this ice sheet since the 1970’s, it has been steadily growing thinner. As stated in last week’s post by John J. Hidore, “As a result of the warmer temperatures, the ice has been thawing further from shore and the remaining perennial ice pack has been getting thinner. In some areas it is only half as thick as it was a few decades ago.” This melting of the ice sheet allows for passage of freighters, without ice breaker ships, to places that were previously inaccessible.

Reducing Dependency on Denmark
Currently, more than half of Greenland’s revenues come from Denmark, but Greenland’s goal is to reduce dependency on Denmark’s subsidies. Greenland’s government has recently voted to allow mining of uranium, which has had a 25 year ban. Uranium is often found mixed with rare earth metals, therefore, requiring the  ban to be lifted on both rare earths metals and uranium. Also, there is a growing demand for rare earth metals, as they are used in many every day devices such as cell phones, rechargeable batteries, DVDs, computers, and fluorescent lighting. Greenland’s government approved the end of the uranium ban recently in a 15 to 14 vote, arguing with Denmark that “its autonomy from Denmark will let Greenland export uranium.”  Denmark has said Greenland can decide only on excavation of uranium, not on its exportation. Greenland Minerals, according to the Wall Street Journal, is “developing an $810 million rare-earths and uranium project that it hopes will produce enough uranium and zinc to subsidize mining rare earth metals at a lower cost than in China, the world’s largest producer.”

Environmental Effects of Mining
China is currently the world supplier of rare earths but in 2013 China put a cap on the production of rare earths stating that overmining has created massive damage to their environment and China “no longer wants to pay the environmental costs of supplying the vast bulk of the world’s rare earths,” as reported by David Stanway. There has been little or no regulation of the mining of rare earth metals in China, leading to many environmental disasters. For example, in Northern China near the Mongolian border radioactive water from a mine is leaking into the Yellow River, which is a major source of drinking water and in south-central China, there are a large number of illegal rare earth strip mines. In southeast China, runoff from rare earth mines are destroying rice fields and water sources.

With the mining of uranium comes radioactive decay products, which, as with the rare earth metals, have the potential to affect the quality of surface and ground water, soil, and air. Tailings from mining uranium can contaminate a site for thousands of years according the article, “Potential Environmental Effects of Uranium Mining, Processing, and Reclamation” published by the National Academies Press. This article also states that “limited data exists to confirm the long-term effectiveness of uranium tailings’ management facilities that have been designed and constructed according to our modern best practices.”

Long Term Effects of Uranium 
Forty-eight NGOs (nongovernment organizations), including Greenpeace, have signed a petition to stop mining in Greenland. The reasons they have listed include: 1.There will be chemical pollution from radioactive tailings. 2.There is no safe technology to store radioactive residues. 3.The Arctic environment is vulnerable to pollution, as it is extremely slow to recover due to the cold temperatures which slow down the chemical breakdown of the contaminants. 4.Up to 85% of the radioactivity from uranium mining will remain in the tailings and leakage is highly possible, spreading the radioactive materials throughout the pristine environment. 5. As in the mining of rare earth metals in China, leakage of radiation may accumulate in the food chain, thus contaminating fish and causing genetic damage to life in the Arctic. 6. Contamination could eliminate the fishing industry of Greenland.

Greenland Minerals and Energy LTD is licensed to mine in Greenland and according to the NGO organizations, “Greenland Minerals does not have sufficient economic resources to clean up ecological damage done to the region from the millions of tons of radioactive waste, nor does Greenland itself have the resources to restore the damage.”

And finally,  responsible nations and citizens of the world need to ask themselves, “What would be the long term cost of opening Greenland to the mining of uranium and rare earth metals?” The NGO organizations summarize it well, “The long term economic damage could far exceed any compensation from jobs or short term economic success!”