Peter Sinclair is a videographer, creator of two video series on climate change, Climate Denial Crock of the Week, and This is Not Cool, which is a regular feature of Yale Climate Connections. He is media director of the Dark Snow Project, an international team of scientists and communicators, which has taken him with scientists to research areas such as the North Cascades Glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet. He lives and works in Midland, MI.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
May and June had the hottest global temperatures on record, according to a report from the National Climactic Data Center. With July coming in as the Earth’s fourth-hottest month on record, glacier-covered Greenland is seeing a real impact, and it has climate change scientists concerned.
Our guest, Peter Sinclair, has been documenting this impact. He is the media director of the Dark Snow Project, an international team of researchers and climate communicators. He recently returned from his trip to Greenland, and he’s currently in Midland, Michigan.
Thanks for being with us, Peter.
PETER SINCLAIR, VIDEOGRAPHER, DARK SNOW PROJECT: I’m very happy to be here. Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: So, Peter, let’s take a look at some of the visuals that you captured there in Greenland. I mean, you look at it, and it looks so pristine and peaceful, but people are really concerned about what’s going on there. Why is Greenland of particular interest to climate change scientists?
SINCLAIR: Greenland is currently the ice sheet that is giving us the greatest contribution to sea level rise. We saw BBC report this morning that the combined ice sheets—Antarctica and Greenland—have doubled their mass loss in the last five years. This is very sobering news. And now Antarctica is ten times the size of Greenland and will overtake Greenland at some time in this century as the main source of sea level rise. But for now, Greenland, with potentially 22 feet of sea level rise locked up in the ice there, is a major area of concern. And there may be things that we can still do to save Greenland, or to at least slow down its loss. So it’s a major focus at this time.
DESVARIEUX: So the ice sheet is a major focus, as you just said. But can you break down some of the data that you gathered while there on your recent trip? How does it compare to data from previous studies?
SINCLAIR: Well, what Dark Snow Project is looking at is factors that are darkening the ice. Our science director, Jason Box, has documented that the Greenland ice sheet is darkening. Therefore it is absorbing more solar energy during summertime. And more solar energy makes the surface melt faster.
There are reasons for the ice sheet to get dark. Some of them are natural. Some of them are produced by simply increasing areas of the ice sheet that are melting during the summer. As we get warmer and warmer temperatures that come further into the ice sheet, we see those areas remain above freezing long enough to get significant melt.
So we were in that melt zone, about 20 kilometers in on the ice sheet, that is gradually expanding, where you see water everywhere moving into streams. You can see in the video the streams get larger and larger. And we had, not far away from our camp, we had what are called moulins, these waterfalls where the surface water plunges into the heart of the ice sheet, and thereby sending a whole lot of warmth down into—deep, deep into the ice.
And so, as I said, we know this has always happened around the edges, but those edges are getting wider and wider and wider. And so it’s critical that we understand why. Part of the reason may be soot from wildfires, which are increasing in northern forests around the hemisphere. Part of it may be from biological activity of algae and microbes that are able to grow and to develop when they have liquid water, when they’re not frozen. And these microbes create a darkening effect on the ice sheet. And you can see in some of the video some of the areas that are sort of a dark grayish color. Those are the algae areas that we’re looking at.
DESVARIEUX: But, Peter, I mean, you’re over there in Michigan, I’m sitting here in this lovely studio in Baltimore, but we’re talking about Greenland. Why should people even be concerned about what’s going on there?
SINCLAIR: Well, I’ve heard scientists say what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. We’re looking at signs of sea level rise that are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, particularly in places like Miami, also other places around the world where people are crowded together along low-lying coasts. Hurricane Sandy was certainly a wake-up call, in that it showed us that it doesn’t take too many inches of sea level rise to begin to overwhelm infrastructure that we’ve built long our coasts, infrastructure that was built for the sea level of maybe 50 or 100 years ago but is rapidly becoming overwhelmed when we have an extreme event like a hurricane or extreme storm. So Greenland is going to—the melt of Greenland and the other ice sheets is going to come around and bite us a lot sooner than some people think.
DESVARIEUX: Which populations would then be bitten harder, I guess, in terms of which populations would be most affected by this sea level rise?
SINCLAIR: Well, of course, anyone—you said—I believe you’re in Baltimore. Is that correct?
DESVARIEUX: That’s correct.
SINCLAIR: Yeah. So I’ve been to the harbor in Baltimore, and I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to imagine, picture a foot or two or three of sea level rise, which at the current rates, at the current rate of increase, we could very well see in our lifetime, and what that might do the case of a storm, for instance.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. So, Peter, I have a challenge for you. How would you respond to those climate-change skeptics that say the Earth has gone through drastic climate change before and that there is no link to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases? How can we make that direct correlation?
SINCLAIR: Well, the scientists, it’s because the scientists understand the changes of the past so well that they’re concerned about the changes we’re making now. Generally, in the past the planet has changed. It’s changed due to changes in orbital cycles, changes in the sun, sometimes changes in volcanic activity. None of those changes adequately explain the warming process that we’re seeing that is undeniable at the present time. But there’s plenty of evidence of, in the past, that when we have greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, when they have, through natural processes, gone up, then we get a warmer planet.
And so what we’ve done now and what I’ve outlined in the interviews with scientists in some of my videos is that we’ve created an atmosphere now that is like the atmosphere we had two and a half million years ago. And when we look at sea level two and a half million years ago, we see that it was 50, 60, or even 70 feet higher than it is today.
That won’t happen all at once. It won’t happen right away. But the past is definitely a record that is warning us that if we keep on the same trajectory, if we keep the same atmosphere that we have already today, that we’re heading for much higher sea level rise that most people appreciate.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Peter St. Clair, very interesting analysis. Thank you so much for being with us.
SINCLAIR: You bet. Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.