Swimming with Icebergs in East Greenland

In 2019, I went for a swim in Tasiilaq, East Greenland.  It was the hottest summer on record.  Icebergs were corralled by vertical rock fortress walls.

The cold water was not as shocking as was the taste. The surface water was salty and memories of swallowing the water from the Nantucket Sound rushed in. I took three strokes out and three strokes back. Then quickly up the ladder, over the rail, and back on the sun-warmed deck of the ship.

The melt water of icebergs and Greenland’s glacial runoff water was nowhere to be found on the surface of the ocean. 

You can see this phenomenon in a pint glass of water with an ice cube.  Drip blue food coloring onto the ice cube. The blue food coloring will slide off and sink straight down and feather out near the bottom of the glass. Cold water is heavier, denser, so it does not puddle on the sea surface.

Sinking cold salty water is the thermohaline motion that drives ocean circulation around the world. But here’s the problem, as our climate warms so does the ocean. And what does all that melting ice water do when it warms? It expands.

That’s right. Rising sea levels are not only caused by massive amounts of Arctic ice melting — the briny sea is expanding, too.

In Baffin Bay, narwhals were fitted with satellite‐linked time‐depth‐temperature recorders. Baffin Hollow is 7,008 feet deep and they dive to the bottom in search of Greenland’s halibut.

The narwhals reported that the seas are rising faster than one would think based on ice melt observations alone. Baffin Bay’s surface water had thinned. The much larger warmer water mass of the West Greenland Intermediate Water had exhibited a statistically significant warming at depths between 1,300 and 7,000 feet. And get this — the water had expanded by 160 to 260 feet.

Here’s what all this means, FIRST: Sea levels are going to rise big time.

We need bold legislation that reduces carbon emissions and increases the drawdown of carbon dioxide with photosynthesis. The Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act (HR.8632), a comprehensive bill from Rep. Grijalva that promotes ocean health and resiliency and greens our shorelines, is a good place to start.

The ocean, with 96% of the world’s water, is a vast energy and carbon dioxide sink. To cool the ocean’s fever and slow sea level rise, we must act boldly, and we must act now.

Sign our letter to your legislator and please comment as to why you care so deeply for acting on ocean based climate solutions.

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