Tag Archives: Africa

How big is Greenland?

Maps of Greenland were sketched with broken bones, frozen limbs, and starved bodies of men and dogs alike. On April 10, 1912 four men and 53 sled dogs crossed North Greenland from a small Inuit settlement on the West Coast where today the US Air Force maintains Thule Air Base. In 1912 Knud Rassmussen, Peter Freuchen, Uvidloriaq, and Inukitsoq searched for two explorers lost somewhere on Greenland’s East Coast 1200 km (760 miles) away. They returned 5 months later with 8 dogs without finding Einar Mikkelsen or Iver Iversen. These two arrived in North-East Greenland to find diaries, maps, and photos of three earlier explorers who had starved to death in the fall of 1908. Mikkelsen and Iverson found the records, but struggled to survive the winters of 1910/11 and 1911/12 alone stranded before a passing ship found them. I ordered their 1913 Expedition Report yesterday.

Dog sled teams drive across Greenland’s Inland ice in April 1912 from Clemens Markham’s Glacier in the west to Denmark Fjord in the east. All 4 explorers returned, but only 8 dogs did.
Map of Greenland as included in the Report of the First Thule Expedition 1912 by Knud Rasmussen.

I worked along these coasts in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 on German research vessels, Swedish icebreakers, Greenland Air helicopters, and American snowmobiles. We explored the oceans below ice and glaciers with digital sensors but without hunger, cold, or lack of comfort. I feel that I know these coasts well, read what others have written and suffered. I make my own maps, too, to reveal patterns of oceans, ice, and glaciers that change in space and time. And yet, I am often lost by distances and areas. I do not know how big Greenland is.

Clockwise from top left: Ocean observatory on sea ice off Thule Air Base (Apr.-2017); refuelling helicopter in transit to ocean observatory on Petermann Gletscher (Aug.-2016); Swedish icebreaker in Baffin Bay (Aug.-2015); and deployment of University of Delaware ocean moorings from Germany’s R/V Polarstern off North-East Greenland at 77 N latitude (Jun.-2014).

At home I know distances that I walk, bicycle, or drive as part of my daily routine. I know areas where I live from weather and google maps, weekend strolls, and where family and friends live. Once we travel in unfamiliar lands, however, we are lost. Americans rarely know how small most European countries are while Europeans rarely know how far the Americas stretch from Pacific to Atlantic Oceans. Nobody knows the size of Greenland or Africa. On World Atlases Greenland appears as large as Africa, but this is false. Just look at this map:

The size of Africa on the same scale as the USA (green), Greenland (orange), and Germany (blue). Germany is about the same size as Botswana while Greenland is a tad larger than Kongo and the USA is about as big as the Sahara.

Thus North Greenland’s explorers walked distances similar to walking across Texas, Mississippi, and Florida (and back) or distances similar to walking Germany from its North Sea to the Alps (and back) or distances similar to walking across Kenya (and back). Making these maps, I found the tool at https://thetruesize.com These playful maps compare Greenland’s size by placing its shape onto North-America, Europe, and Asia:

Three explorers starved and froze to death November 1907 because they underestimated their walking area. Their shoes wore thin and they walked barefoot. Daylight disappeared and was replaced by polar night. Food vanished with no game to hunt. Jorgen Bronland, Niels Hoeg Hagen, and Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen were 29, 30, and 35 years young when they died mapping Greenland. I sailed the ice-covered coastal ocean. I was helped by maps they made walking.

Melting Mountain Glaciers: Changing Planet Video

A short video clip explains in stunning clarity how mountain glaciers change. The example is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. The video is produced professionally by NBC and NSF and contains actor Gregory Peck, writer Ernest Hemingway, as well glaciologists Lonnie Thompson and Douglas Hardy.

Lonnie Thompson has perhaps traveled the world for ice cores and published its science implications more extensively than anyone else. At a recent meeting in San Francisco I heart him deliver an engaging and fun presentation. His writing is most accessible in terms of clarity and context.

Thompson, L. (2002). Kilimanjaro Ice Core Records: Evidence of Holocene Climate Change in Tropical Africa Science, 298 (5593), 589-593 DOI: 10.1126/science.1073198

Winners and Losers of Climate Change

People with computers live long, prosperous lives, those without die early. Does this correlation mean that computers make us live longer? Of course not, but on average computer users live longer the same way that global temperatures increase as more people use computers. Does this now mean that warmer temperatures are good for you? Absolutely, if you have a computer …

Sum of undepleted CO2 emissions (top) 1950-200 and expected death by malaria, hunger, diarrhea, and flooding (bottom) as adapted from Patz et al. (2007)

I came across a report sponsored by the medical journal “The Lancet” and the University College of London entitled “ Managing the health effects of climate change.” There are pictures of glaciers, volcanos, floods, and many dazzling graphs. The most stunning is a distorted and bulging earth (Patz et al., 2007).

On top it shows the total undepleted CO2 put into the air from 1950-2000. The larger a region on the map, the more CO2 a region puts into the air. On the bottom, it shows how many people will likely die as a result of calamities that are larger in a warming climate for the 2000-2030 period. The larger the region on the map, the more people will be wiped out.

Enjoying a high standard of living fueled by burning coal, oil, and gas, we Europeans and North-Americans use energy to keep our computers, cars, and industries running. In the process we released about 10-30 pounds of CO2 per person per day averaged of the last 50 years. We are immune to malaria, a disease fostered by warmer climates; we got a strong economy to feed and cloth us so we do not starve; and except for the poor of New Orleans who drowned in hurricane Katrina, we rarely die of floods.

The situation is different in Africa and Asia. The average CO2 released is well below 2 pounds per person per day. There just are not as many computers, cars, and industries there. Instead, malaria is the main killer as it reproduces fast. Rising sea levels caused by a warming climate will cause more flooding of poorly protected areas where more poor people will drown.

No single flood, malaria, or drought will ever be caused by global warming alone. Global warming is an abstract and statistical concept that varies by region and over time. It is always present and poses an ethical dilemma: those with computers cause most of the global warming, but we do not pay the full price, while those without computers who contribute the least to the warming, they will pay more than full price. Hardly seems fair, but such is life … and we need our computers.