Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Greenland Could See Boon from Warming ; as Huge Ice Cap Recedes, Vast Deposits of Minerals Can Now Be Exploited

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Greenland Could See Boon from Warming ; as Huge Ice Cap Recedes, Vast Deposits of Minerals Can Now Be Exploited

Article excerpt

But the rapid transition from a society of individual fishermen and hunters to an economy supported by corporate mining raises difficult questions.

As icebergs in the Kayak Harbor pop and hiss while melting away, this remote Arctic town and its culture are also disappearing in a changing climate.

Narsaq's largest employer, a shrimp factory, closed a few years ago after the crustaceans fled north to cooler water. Where once there were eight commercial fishing vessels, there is now one. And as a result, the population here, one of southern Greenland's major towns, has been halved to 1,500 in just a decade. Suicides are up.

"Fishing is the heart of this town," said Hans Kaspersen, 63, a fisherman. "Lots of people have lost their livelihoods."

But even as warming temperatures are upending traditional Greenlandic life, they are also offering up intriguing new opportunities for this island of 57,000 -- perhaps nowhere more so than in Narsaq.

Vast new deposits of minerals and gems are being discovered as Greenland's massive ice cap recedes, forming the basis of a potentially lucrative mining industry.

One of the world's largest deposits of rare earth metals -- essential for manufacturing cellphones, wind turbines and electric cars -- sits just outside Narsaq.

This could be momentous for Greenland, which has long relied on half a billion dollars a year in subsidies from Denmark, its parent state. Mining profits could help Greenland become economically self- sufficient and render it the first sovereign nation created by global warming.

"One of our goals is to obtain independence," said Vittus Qujaukitsoq, a prominent labor union leader.

But the rapid transition from a society of individual fishermen and hunters to an economy supported by corporate mining raises difficult questions. How would Greenland's insular settlements tolerate an influx of thousands of Polish or Chinese construction workers, as has been proposed? Will mining despoil a natural environment essential to Greenland's identity -- the whales, seals and polar bears, the silent icy fjords? Can fishermen reinvent themselves as miners?

"I think mining will be the future, but this is a difficult phase," said Jens B. Frederiksen, Greenland's minister of housing, infrastructure and transport, and a deputy premier. "It's a plan that not everyone wants. It's about traditions, the freedom of a boat, family professions."

The Arctic is warming even faster than other parts of the planet. In northeastern Greenland, the average yearly temperature has risen 4.5 degrees in the past 15 years, and scientists predict the area will warm by 14 to 21 degrees by the end of the century.

Already, winter pack ice that covers the fjords is no longer stable enough for dog sledding and snowmobile traffic in many areas. Winter fishing, essential to feeding families, is becoming hazardous or impossible.

It has long been known that Greenland sat upon vast mineral lodes, and the Danish government has mapped them intermittently for decades. The Danish Nobel physics laureate Niels Bohr, one of the leading scientists in developing the atomic bomb, visited Narsaq in 1957 because of its uranium deposits.

But previous attempts at mining usually proved too expensive in the inclement conditions. Now, global warming has altered the equation.

Greenland's Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, charged with managing the boom, has 150 active licenses for mineral exploration, up from 20 a decade ago. Altogether, companies spent $100 million exploring Greenland's deposits last year. Several are applying for licenses to begin development of mines containing gold, iron and zinc and rare earths. Other companies are exploring for offshore oil deposits.

"For me, I wouldn't mind if the whole ice cap disappears," Ole Cristiansen, chief executive of NunaMinerals, Greenland's largest home-grown mining company, said as he picked his way along a proposed gold mining site up the fjord from Nuuk, Greenland's capital. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.