I spent two weeks in Greenland. The first week I lived with scientists as they investigated just how fast glaciers were moving and if changing weather was playing a role. The second week I spent in the town of Ittoqqortoormiit, where warmer weather has led to dangerous encounters with the Arctic’s most threatened and iconic species: the polar bear.
Ittoqqortoormiit is known as the edge of the earth. Only 450 Inuit Eskimos live in this Arctic fishing town on Greenland’s Northeast coast. There’s only one flight in and out once a week. My trip from Tasiilaq, Greenland, where I joined scientists studying glacial melt, took two days and four flights, the last of which was on a bumpy helicopter. That final approach felt like the opening scene of Jurassic Park where a similar chopper, dwarfed by a landscape of piercing mountains, dropped out of the sky to a small landing pad below. Only as I walked away from my landing pad, with the chopper buzzing back to civilization, did I realize how alone I was.
But while Ittoqqortoormiit is considered one of the most remote villages in the western hemisphere, it is not isolated from the effects of climate change. Town elders say in the past five years the summer ice has all but disappeared. A typical summer lasted one month. Today it stretches to three.
– Image and story by Pulitzer Center grantee Jonathan Vigliotti. Greenland, 2013.