Warming Temperatures Are Forcing People In Greenland To Change Their Lifestyles

Dec 4, 2019
Originally published on December 5, 2019 11:48 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Much of Greenland is covered under a heavy layer of ice, up to a mile thick in some places. Nevertheless, the massive island hasn't escaped the impact of warming arctic temperatures that's changing the land and water in Greenland and affecting the way of life for many of the 56,000 people who live there. NPR's Jackie Northam has this report about how one family in Southern Greenland is adapting to the changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: A canine alarm system announces visitors arriving by boat at Kangerluarsorujuk. The remote sheep farm sits at the far end of a fjord in Southern Greenland. There are two bright red barns and a couple small, sturdy houses built to withstand the cold. The farm has been owned and run by the Nielsen family since 1972.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Shouting in non-English language).

NORTHAM: It's a family affair to round up 1,400 sheep from the surrounding hills and into the barns. A couple of border collies keep a close eye for any stragglers. Thirty-seven-year-old Kanuk Nielsen says the annual roundup is hard work.

KANUK NIELSEN: It takes about one week to get them all. So we walk about - up to 30 kilometers per day, seven plus days.

NORTHAM: Nielsen has spent his life on the sheep farm and says he sees the effects of a warming climate. The longer summers can mean drought, which means less hay in Greenland for the sheep.

K NIELSEN: We have a lot of irrigation systems in the bottom of fjord. And here, you can see the blue bottle up there. That's our irrigation, too.

NORTHAM: Nielsen says the irrigation system can only do so much, so hay needs to be brought in from Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

K NIELSEN: (Non-English language spoken).

NORTHAM: Kanuk Nielsen and his father Lars work closely together on the farm, and Kanuk will take over after his father retires in a few years. His older brother Pilu has chosen a different path.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER WHIRRING)

NORTHAM: A helicopter lifts off at the tiny airport in Qaqortoq, about a half-hour boat ride from the Nielsen farm. We caught up with Pilu Nielsen at his office next to the helipad.

PILU NIELSEN: (Non-English language spoken).

NORTHAM: Pilu instructs workmen hanging a company sign. Sermaq Helicopters opened at the end of June.

P NIELSEN: We've been so busy with flying around. We didn't have much time to do all the normal, practical stuff.

NORTHAM: Pilu says he loved the sheep farm and that there was no better way to grow up. But he saw the warming temperatures were making this remote area of Greenland more accessible, so Pilu got his helicopter pilot's license and helped form his small company. It caters to construction and telecommunication workers and tourists. Pilu says the most popular tours include a visit to the glaciers with their stunning colors.

P NIELSEN: The top, of course, is white. But at the bottom, where it's really compressed, it's all crystal-clear blue - so, so amazing.

NORTHAM: Pilu says the warming temperatures mean weather patterns are changing a lot, and the glaciers are receding.

P NIELSEN: That's the most visible signs of change. In the last five to 10 years, it's been accelerating like crazy.

NORTHAM: Many people like Pilu are leaving the countryside for Greenland's towns and cities. Pilu says he often talked to his brother and his parents before making his decision to leave the family farm.

P NIELSEN: I think they're just glad that I could do something good.

NORTHAM: And they're happy for his brother, too.

P NIELSEN: They're real, real glad - proud and glad for Kanuk staying there.

NORTHAM: And it's not like Pilu doesn't visit. He'll take tourists out to the family farm to see a real slice of life in rural Greenland.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Kangerluarsorujuk, Greenland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.