by Anne Thompson, chief environmental affairs correspondent
Tonight, we will take you to Greenland's vast and forbidding ice sheet. Some 300 miles wide and 1200 miles long, it is the poster child if you will, for global warming. Here you can see the melting first hand. (WATCH ANNE'S VIDEO BLOG FROM GREENLAND)
Spontaneous rivers and streams that occur in the annual summer thaw... but getting bigger and faster every year as the temperature rises.
We went to the ice sheet with Konrad Steffen, a climatologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is a rock star in the world of global warming. At our hotel in Ilulissat, he would hold court in the lobby and dining room. The Hotel Hvide Falk (white falcon) is the choice for scientists and Steffen is the magnet. Young researchers literally sat at his knee to hear his insights about what's happening to the ice.
Steffen has been coming to Greenland for 18 years, longer than anyone else. The Danish Meterological Center in Denmark says the summer of 2007 was the second warmest since records started being kept in 1962.
This towering Swiss-born scientist is a charismatic loner... revelling in the solitude of the ice sheet.
Since 1990, his base has been Swiss Camp, a group of three tent buildings on a platform plus a sauna. He chose the spot because the melt and snowfall are the same so the ice never changes. But it did this year. He saw record melt there losing about 4 feet of snow and 3 feet of ice. The melting now threatens the buildings.
On our trip, we did not go to Swiss Camp but rather to a spot some 30 miles northeast of Ilulissat. There were not structures here and certainly no sauna, just ice as far as you could see. Steffen went to measure the moulins which are vertical caves. He believes the moulins send the meltwater down between the ice sheet and the bedrock. There he says it acts like a lubricant and moves the ice sheet... putting more ice into the ocean that will raise sea levels.
To interview Steffen and watch him work, we had to camp on the ice sheet. Now I have a confession to make: I never camped before this story. Producer Mario Garcia, photographer Bruce Bernstein and his son and soundman Curt all had plenty of experience but I was a rookie. As we planned our trip Mario told me he had good news and bad news for me: "The bad news Annie, is there is no Four Seasons. The good news is I bought you a Four Season tent." The tent and the whole experience was incredible. I would go back to the ice sheet in the proverbial New York minute. The only thing I can even imagine it compares to is being on the moon. There are no birds, no fish, no trees. Nothing. It is just you and the ice and it is spectacular. Yes, it gets very cold at night.... down to 14 degrees.... but the entire experience is worth a little shivering.
Not only did I camp, but I also cooked two meals on the ice sheet. That is two more meals than I cooked all summer in my New York apartment. Now Mario and Bruce, being manly men, didn't want to bring a stove. They said all we'd need to eat would be cheese and crackers. Curt and I on the other hand could see the advantages of hot meals, soups and drinks, especially if we got stuck on the ice sheet. That led to a camping contest of the Cheeseheads (apologies to Packer fans) versus the Pastaheads... Mario and Bruce versus Curt and me. The Pastaheads brought a little stove (more like the Bunsen burner I remember in chemistry class), cooked pasta, Ramen noodles and made instant espresso. But we could not have done it without the Cheeseheads help. Mario and Bruce figured out how to make the stove work, I cooked and Curt ate. Actually, we all ate and lived to tell about it. Maybe I'll try cooking at home.