- Associated Press - Saturday, August 20, 2011

DISKO ISLAND, GREENLAND (AP) - The old hunter was troubled by the foreigners encroaching on his Inuit people’s frozen lands.

“The Inuit say that they are going to heat the `siku’ (the sea ice) to make it melt. There will be almost no more winter,” the elder says of the southerners in Jean Malaurie’s “Last Kings of Thule,” the French explorer’s classic account of a year in the Arctic.

The year was 1951. A lifetime later, another Inuit hunter looks out at Disko Bay from this island’s rocky fringe and remembers driving his dogsled team over the solid glitter of the siku all the way to Ilulissat, a town 90 kilometers (55 miles) across the water.

“The ice then was 1 to 2 meters thick,” Jakob Jensen, 65, recalled of those winters past.

“Now, it’s a few centimeters. It’s very thin and you can’t go on dogsled.”

The winter sea ice that defined Greenlander life for millennia is melting, and it’s the southerners who did it, as Malaurie’s Inuit foretold long before science showed industrial emissions were warming the planet.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and “Greenland is experiencing some of the most severe environmental impacts,” social researcher Lene Kielsen Holm concludes in a preliminary report on a north-to-south survey of Greenlanders.

Those impacts are broad and deep.

For a village society whose dogsledding ice hunters long supplied it with seal and walrus meat and fish in winter, the “dark months” are now a time of enforced idleness, limited travel and emptier larders. On land, the thawing permafrost underfoot is leaving houses askew and broken. Climate change touches the animals, too: Greenlanders find lean polar bears, unable to stalk seals on sea ice, invading their settlements for food.

And the very sound of Greenland is changing. Where villages once echoed to the howl of huskies, that old call of the wild has been muted. Dispirited hunters up and down the west Greenland coast, unable to feed winter game to their sled dogs, have been shooting them.

The 900 people of Qeqertarsuaq, Disko Island’s main town, now have about 300 dogs.

“That’s half of what it used to be,” said Jensen’s neighbor Johan Lindenhann, chairman of the local hunters-fishers association.

Climate change has brought new sounds, too _ of oil drilling. Northwest of here, in the open sea of Baffin Bay, Scotland-based Cairn Energy this summer is drilling an exploratory well.

Geologists see good prospects for oil and gas off Greenland’s shores, and for valuable mineral deposits onshore, from gold to zinc. The more open waters and more ice-free terrain make the work of finding them easier.

The 56,000 Greenlanders, 89 percent of them Inuit, sense the potential for gain, along with the reality of loss from the warming.

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