I wandered down, and asked a pair of Inuit fisherman if they had noticed a change in the weather. "We used to be able to dogsled to Disko Island, across 30 miles of sea ice," 56-year-old Daniel Jorgensen said. He spoke through a translator, in Greenlandic, an Inuit tongue. "We haven’t been able to do that since 1990." Nearby, hunters loaded plastic tubs with raw whale meat cut into cubes a foot across. Jorgensen agreed with all the other fishermen I talked to: Greenland has become indisputably warmer over the last decade or so. This has made it difficult to reach traditional ice-fishing sites by dogsled. On the other hand, it’s now possible to take boats out fishing year-round, and the reindeer herds, with more to feed on, are growing.
So it has always been in the Arctic. One resource vanishes; another reveals itself. In nature, such change is constant. Only this time, the circumstances of this change are deeply unnatural.
That night I went outside and climbed to the top of a rock outcropping on the shore. It was midnight and cold, the temperature a few degrees above freezing, but the sun was bright in the sky to the north. Mist hung over a scattering of icebergs, and the low-angled light gave them a mystical, otherworldly appearance. Further off lay a number of settlements, each smaller, and smaller still, until all that was left was the empty frozen expanse, and beyond, the North Pole. For one blissful moment, it seemed impossible to believe that any human could touch—let alone alter—this kingdom of ice.
Jeff Wise is a Travel + Leisure contributing editor.