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Walking on Water? Snow Dogs Haul Sled Through Rapidly-Melting Ice Amid Greenland Climate Crisis

Dave Quinn
"Extreme events, here flooding of the ice by abrupt onset of surface melt, call for an increased predictive capacity in the Arctic," wrote Danish climate scientist Steffen Olsen

A sea of snow dogs in Greenland found themselves in ankle-deep water this month, due to the rising temperatures hitting the region.

Steffen Olsen, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), snapped a picture of the pack of pooches as they hauled a sled of DMI researchers during an expedition to retrieve oceanographic moorings and weather station equipment at the Inglefield Bredning fjord in northwest Greenland on June 13.

While the dogs typically would be running on a thick layer of snow and ice, they instead trudged through meltwater on top of an approximately 4-foot thick coastal sea ice sheet.

Olsen’s photo made it looks as if they dogs were literally walking on water, their white paws placed lightly in the bright blue waters splashing around them.

The phenomenon was caused by “rapid melt and sea ice with low permeability and few cracks,” Olsen’s colleague at the institute, Rasmus Tonboe, explained on Twitter. “[It] leaves the melt water on top.”

That same day, scientists reported that Greenland was experiencing record-breaking melting this year due to the planet’s climate crisis. Though the country has annual melting over the summer months of June, July, and August, this year’s rate has broken records. Two billion tons of ice has already melted away this season in Greenland, a number that is about 40 percent of the nation’s area.

Typically, peak melting occurs in July. But according to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, temperatures were already hitting around 22C above normal on June 12.

It’s very unusual to have this much melt so early in the season,” William Colgan, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland’s senior researcher, told the BBC. “It takes very rare conditions but they’re becoming increasingly common.”

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Since it was first shared by Tonboe on Twitter, Olsen’s photo has racked up thousands of retweets and likes, with many expressing concern over the longterm effects the extreme melting will cause globally.

For his part, Olsen is hoping that the photo leads to action.

“Communities in #Greenland rely on the sea ice for transport, hunting and fishing,” he wrote Twitter. “Extreme events, here flooding of the ice by abrupt onset of surface melt, call for an increased predictive capacity in the Arctic.”