How Melting Ice Changes One Country’s Way of LifeGreenland’s hunters are facing a threat to centuries of tradition. Late one quiet November night in the village of Niaqornat, 300 miles above the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s west coast, the sled dogs began to howl. That afternoon, beneath a lowering gray sky, the hunters return, dragging their boats ashore. Now a culture that has evolved here over many centuries, adapting to the seasonal advance and retreat of sea ice, is facing the prospect that the ice will retreat for good. A movie projected onto an iceberg lights up the faces of two girls from the island town of Uummannaq, Nielsine (far left) and Jensigne (right), and of hunter Joas Korneliussen. Of the 2,200 people who live along Uummannaq Fjord, more than half are on its namesake island, on the slopes of a 3,840-foot-high peak called Heart-Shaped (Uummannaq in Greenlandic) Mountain. In recent decades the glaciers surrounding Uummannaq Fjord have been melting at an accelerating rate, and the number of days a year when sea ice covers the fjord has been declining. Many settlements have a fish factory operated by Royal Greenland, a government-owned company that processes and packages the halibut for export.
Although fishing provides a good income for many families, the smallest settlements wouldn’t survive without generous government subsidies.
The arrival of sea ice ends the isolation of island villages like Saattut, home to 200 people and 500 sled dogs. When a hunter does bag a seal, it sinks through a surface layer of fresh glacial meltwater and floats on top of the salt water below. Karl-Frederik Jensen puts on pants made of polar bear skin as he prepares to go ice fishing with his father and brother. Later that afternoon at his house, in a living room where family photos share space on the walls with old whalebone tools, Thomas talks about how Greenland has changed since his youth. On a blustery day punctuated by snow flurries, Malik, dressed in his habitual black and plugged into his tablet, takes me to his favorite spot: a high rocky hill with sweeping views of the fjord and its monumental icebergs, not yet immobilized by sea ice.
Greenland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with men in their late teens and early 20s accounting for most of the deaths.
A kaffemik, one of which seems to be happening somewhere in Uummannaq almost every day, is a kind of community coffee party.
During a break in the music, Jean-Michel Huctin, a French anthropologist who has been studying the Uummannaq and other Inuit settlements for 18 years, gets into a lively discussion with a man from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital and largest town, with more than 16,000 people.
But job opportunities in Greenland are few, Huctin retorts, and anyway what would happen to older hunters such as the Løvstrøm brothers? Weary and frustrated after four fruitless days of seal hunting, Knud Jensen (wearing sealskin) and Apollo Mathiassen go on searching for prey in the broken ice of Uummannaq Fjord. After falling in love with northern Greenland on his first trip, photographer Ciril Jazbec spent nearly six months in the frozen land for this assignment. The ice-clogged Yukon River faces the yearly spring breakup, an annual event causing flooding in Alaskan villages such as Eagle and Circle.
In anticipation of this year’s heavy snow-flow, Andy and Kate have devised a plan, on Life Below Zero: The Chase the husband and wife team constructed a doomsday raft so that they may never have to endure an episode like the spring breakup of 2009 again.
Chip and Agnes look forward to their spring traditions, returning to their favorite hole for a little ice fishing. Why are profane words like God**** and son of a b**** allowed on Nat Geo which claims to be t.v. Spring in the northern hemisphere officially begins this Sunday, March 20th—coinciding with International Happiness Day! Cookies are very small text files that are stored on your computer when you visit some websites.


When the 64-year-old Inuit man was young, he could hunt by dogsled on the frozen Uummannaq Fjord, on Greenland’s west coast, until June. No one knew for sure, but some of the villagers suspected the dogs had heard the exhalations of narwhals. A few more of Niaqornat’s 50 residents emerge from brightly painted wooden houses and gather on the stony beach, eager to see what the boats might hold. Or maybe they were never there and are still lingering in their summer grounds up north, not yet driven south by spreading sea ice. The movie is Inuk—the tale of an Inuit boy, raised in the city, who returns to the region and discovers traditional hunting. On a clear night lit by stars and the aurora, the audience arrived on snowmobiles and wore sealskin to stay warm. Freed from boats or costly air travel, residents take to sleds and snowmobiles for hunting trips and visits to relatives.
It has lengthened the periods in winter and spring when ice is too thick for boats to leave harbors yet not thick enough to support sleds or snowmobiles. Instead of icing over in December or January and melting in June, the sea freezes in February and starts to thaw in April. To the north and south, umber cliffs dusted with snow tower above the sapphire waters of the fjord.
Researchers have proposed any number of causes: modernization (suicide numbers started to climb in the 1950s), sleep patterns disrupted by round-the-clock summer light, isolation, alcoholism.
The traditional hunting and fishing economy can’t pay for access to the modern amenities that have become important to the hunters and fishers themselves, let alone to their children.
The subject is the future of places like Niaqornat and Saattut—and whether they even have one. Should they trade their independence, give up their dogsleds, boats, and rifles for life in one of Nuuk’s grim apartment blocks? When Ilannguaq Egede became a lonely exception to Greenland’s demographic trends nine years ago, moving to Niaqornat to be with the love of his life, he was willing to take any job available. Major flooding is suspected to hit the interior of Alaska – water level rapidly rising and soaking nearly every inch of the town. As, an extra precaution this week on Life Below Zero: Hell and High Water  Andy and Kate decide to transport their beloved furry friends to higher ground, an added safety precaution that could end up saving their lives. While Agnes seems to have mastered the patience and practice it takes to be a successful ice-fisher, Chip is more accustomed to the hunting of Caribou and tries to learn an appreciation for the slow practice of ice fishing.
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The whales with the spiral unicorn tusks usually swim into Uummannaq Fjord this time of year as they migrate south. Greenlanders, all 56,000 of them, live their lives facing seaward, with a vast, uninhabitable interior at their backs.
When there’s no ice, fishermen set out long lines in the fjord with hundreds of baited hooks.
The loss of ice has shortened the hunting season, in a land where wild meat helps families get by: Seal, reindeer, and whale meat fills freezers for the year. They’re working dogs, not pets, fierce enough to confront a polar bear and bred to find contentment harnessed to a sled pulling heavy loads over ice.
He taught himself English by listening to music, and he dreams of working as a tour guide on the cruise ships that ply Greenland’s fjords in the summer. Long before the sea ice disappears, such economic and social pressure might force the abandonment of the settlements.


After everyone has finished eating, a band plays Greenlandic folk music, accompanying their singing with piano, guitar, ice shaken in a glass, and a qilaat—a large, flat caribou-skin drum.
The Nuuk man, who prefers not to be quoted by name, is ambivalent about propping up the settlements with subsidies. It came very close to being abandoned a few years back when the community’s fish-processing plant shut down.
After living in Kavik as the sole resident for nearly 10 years and managing the camp on her own, she certainly deserves it. Erik’s long winter of hunting in solidarity is over and to his excitement; the field guide business is picking up steam.
He came here nine years ago from south Greenland, where sheep farmers far outnumber whalers, to be with a Niaqornat woman he met on an Internet dating site. Within minutes the animals have been skinned, the meat cut and carried away in plastic bags. And now a culture that has evolved here over many centuries, adapting to the seasonal advance and retreat of sea ice, is facing the prospect that the ice will retreat for good. In the winter they cut knee-deep holes in the sea ice, sink their lines, which are hundreds of feet long, and reel in their catch with a winch. But the oil fields haven’t been developed yet, and according to one recent study, mining would require so many immigrant workers that Greenlanders might become a minority in their own land. Chunks of whale carcass as big as tree stumps and frozen as hard and smooth as lacquered wood sit on the rocks, beyond reach of canine jaws.
He knows he ought to move to a larger town like Ilulissat or Nuuk, but that would leave no one to care for his 80-year-old grandmother, his aanaa, who raised him. But it is clearly emblematic of the uncertain future that awaits so many of Greenland’s youths, in particular those living in far-flung settlements like the ones on Uummannaq Fjord. The question of what to do about them is a deeply contentious one in Greenland—as I come to appreciate one evening in Uummannaq, when I attend a kaffemik. He’d call on each house daily and cart the waste to a beach, where he dumped it into the fjord. In 2009 the spring break up devastated many homes – so now, many are preparing like never before. These days planes, helicopters, and fast motorboats help connect them—but traditionally, at least in more northerly places like Uummannaq, it was sea ice that brought an end to isolation and autumnal little-town blues.
On a good day a fisherman might load his boat or dogsled with a quarter ton or more of the flat, dull-brown fish and sell them to Royal Greenland for several hundred dollars.
Thomas, walking nimbly over the slick terrain, saws off stiff planks of black skin and white blubber and tosses them to the dogs, which yelp and strain against their chains. Aside from some bloodstained rocks and a few severed flippers, all traces of the seals have vanished. In winter dogsleds, snowmobiles, even taxis and fuel trucks can maneuver across what had been open water. But rather than abandon their homes, Niaqornat’s residents pooled their savings and bought the processing plant.
For as long as the Inuit have been in Greenland, winter has been the time for visits, journeys, and hunts. Now even Uummannaq, with its population of 1,248, seems almost unbearably overcrowded to him.



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