Learning about Climate Change in Greenland With A Conservation Travel Guide

Good conservation travel guides elevate guiding to an art. They are one of the key elements in  travel’s potential as a tool to help heal our climate. Colby Brokvist is one such guide, leading trips around the world for prestigious, specialized travel companies. Inspired to take up guiding as a career during a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 2000, Colby’s passion for the outdoors goes beyond simply leading people to the best spot to take a photo, into environmental education and advocacy. 

Colby has has led hundreds of trips from backpacking and trekking adventures to mountaineering and rock-climbing trips, sea kayaking and sailing voyages, and wildlife safaris in places like Greenland, Antarctica, Africa, and Patagonia, as well as across the United States and Canada. He has even published a book on the topic, The Professional Guide’s Handbook.  Tomorrow’s Air is proud to have Colby as a member as well as an Artist for Air and delighted to share what he learned on a recent expedition to Greenland. 

Since 2000, melt rates have accelerated in Greenland, as Arctic temperatures are rising faster than in other parts of the globe. In a new study published August, 2022, in Nature Climate Change, researchers discovered that nearly 10.8 inches of sea-level rise from Greenland’s melting ice sheet are assured, even if humans stopped emitting planet-warming greenhouse gasses today. A visit to Greenland’s ice cap offers a lesson in ice, the lifestyles it supports, along with inspiration for climate action. 

Photo by Colby Brokvist

For people accustomed to urban environments, the sight of Greenland’s glaciers is shocking. They are both frozen and still and unmistakably alive, ridges changeable and shaped by whipping winds. On Colby’s trip, the group spent time in eastern Greenland, in the Ammassalik region. Ammassalik Island is separated from mainland Greenland by the Sermilik Fjord.  Sixty-five percent of all icebergs here originate from just one glacier: the Helheim. This enormous glacial tongue drains a noteworthy four percent of the ice sheet and is an incredible four miles wide where it meets the ocean. There, it extends almost half a mile underwater and is hundreds of feet high. Icebergs the size of New York City blocks calve off of it on a regular basis. 

Glaciologists are particularly interested in large and deep tidewater glaciers like Helheim because they likely contain the key to understanding ice sheet mass balance and movement. New research data is being used to increase the accuracy of climate modeling and predictions, which in turn can be used by governmental agents to create sound environmental policies.

As Greenland’s ice melts it is also releasing immense volumes of sand. As reported recently in Wired by Matt Simon, the sand spewing forth from Greenland’s melting glaciers is uniquely valuable for the production of concrete, “which causes more warming and melting.” Despite the global and local implications of scaling up sand extraction and export (dredging coastlines could disrupt habitats, ships laden with ballast water from other locations could introduce new invasive species), a recent survey found that found that 84 percent of adult residents of Greenland are in favor of it, and three-quarters want it to be a national project. 

Reflecting on the mixed reactions to climate change in Greenland, Colby recently reflected:

"It is not uncommon to think of changing landscapes in terms of geologic time. Across eons, entire continents transect the planet, enormous ice sheets expand and recede, and lengthy mountain ranges rise and are eroded away. Significant change, however, can also happen quickly. Today in Greenland there is far less ice than in recent memory. We tend to think of climate change as being all bad, but that’s not the case.There are winners and losers.

Less ice, for instance, means polar bears will suffer, but in Greenland it also means more ice-free ground, proliferating plant life, rodents and birds will thrive, and new hunting opportunities will emerge for wildlife like the arctic fox.

Photo by Colby Brokvist

For Greenlanders it is the same: some changes are largely welcome, such as increased opportunities for mining and thus potential for economic stability, while on the other hand, many changes are not welcome, such as significant changes in fishery production and the inability to hunt for food in wintertime because the sea ice is unstable. If we look outside of Greenland it is easy to identify more losing scenarios than winning when it comes to the health of the natural resources we depend on globally."

Photo by Colby Brokvist

In addition to time spent in colorful local towns, guests on the trip explore the vast Greenlandic wilderness from Natural Habitat Adventures’ remote basecamp via hiking, kayaking, and zodiac excursions. Check our instagram @tomorrowsair_ for recent images. 

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