Gone with the Ice

Climate change threatens a way of life in Greenland.

November 12, 2015

Photo: Ciril Jazbec/National GeographicAlbert Lukassen’s world is melting around him. When the 64-year-old Inuit man was young, he could hunt by dogsled on the frozen Uummannaq Fjord, on Greenland’s west coast, until June. This photo shows him there in April.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and as Greenland’s ice recedes, a way of life is disappearing along with it.

Greenland’s Inuit communities, who for centuries have relied on the predictable seasonal advance and retreat of sea ice to hunt and fish, are now dealing with increasingly unpredictable conditions and face an uncertain future. These pictures, taken by photographer Ciril Jazbec for National Geographic’s climate change issue, show how global warming is disrupting long-held traditions in the tiny western town of Uummannaq.

Photo: Ciril Jazbec/National GeographicThe arrival of sea ice ends the isolation of island villages like Saattut, home to 200 people and 500 sled dogs. Freed from boats or costly air travel, residents take to sleds and snowmobiles for hunting trips and visits to relatives. No roads connect towns in Greenland, even on the mainland.

Photo: Ciril Jazbec/National GeographicA funeral procession for Johan Kristiansen winds around Uummannaq, the largest town in the fjord, with more than 1,200 residents. Greenland’s population, currently about 56,000, is aging. Barring a surge in the birthrate or an influx of immigrants, it will soon begin declining.

Photo: Ciril Jazbec/National GeographicKarl-Frederik Jensen tosses frozen halibut to his sled dogs. He keeps them on an uninhabited island where they needn’t be chained. Less ice makes it harder for dogs to earn their keep; some hunters have killed theirs.

Photo: Ciril Jazbec/National GeographicWeary and frustrated after four fruitless days of seal hunting, Knud Jensen (wearing sealskin) and Apollo Mathiassen go on searching for prey in the broken ice of Uummannaq Fjord. Unlike some of his peers, Jensen, who’s 15, wants to make his living as a hunter and has no desire to leave his community for a job in one of Greenland’s larger towns.

National Geographic's November issue is devoted to climate change.

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