Sled dogs seem to walk on water in climate expert’s photo of melting Arctic ice

Climate experts have released a photo showing sled dogs appearing to walk on water as they wade through partially melted sea ice to retrieve scientific equipment in north-west Greenland.

The picture was taken by climatologist Steffen Olsen, from the Danish Meteorological Institute, on June 13, as the team went to fetch measuring devices that had been planted in an ice sheet in the Inglefield Gulf to monitor conditions in the area.

Sled dogs seem to walk on water in climate expert's photo of melting Arctic ice
Sled dogs seem to walk on water in climate expert's photo of melting Arctic ice

They used satellite images to plan the trip; however, when the dog sled reached the area, the team found that the ice sheet was hidden beneath a shallow lake.

Mr Olsen said communities in Greenland rely on the sea ice for "transport, hunting and fishing" and that flooding caused by surface melt calls for "an increased predictive capacity in the Arctic".

The photo was shared by his colleague at the DMI, Rasmus Tonboe, who tweeted that the "rapid melt and sea ice with low permeability and few cracks leaves the melt water on top".

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Ruth Mottram, also a DMI climate researcher, said: "The project Steffen is working on is in close collaboration with the local hunters in Qaanaaq.

"They are monitoring sea ice and ocean conditions in Inglefield Bredning, close to the village of Qaanaaq ... In the project, they place instruments on the sea ice that forms in the bay in winter each year and then retrieve them around about now in late spring and early summer before the sea ice breaks up, in order not to lose what are pretty expensive instruments into the ocean!

"This year the expedition to retrieve the instruments by dog sled, still the most practical way to get around in this region at this time of year, ran into a lot of standing water on the sea ice. The ice here forms pretty reliably every winter and is very thick, which means that there are relatively few fractures for melt-water to drain through.

"Last week saw the onset of very warm conditions in Greenland and in fact much of the rest of the Arctic, driven by warmer air moving up from the south. This led to a lot of melting ice, both on the glaciers and ice sheet and on the still existing sea ice.

"Our forecasts indicate that the warm conditions over Greenland will persist at least another few days. Normally we would expect these kind of warm melt events to occur later in the summer in late June or July so it is pretty unusual that it happened this early, though it's not unprecedented."

Glaciers and icebergs in eastern Greenland (Getty Images/PA)
Glaciers and icebergs in eastern Greenland (Getty Images/PA)

The DMI weather station at Qaanaaq airport, Greenland, registered a high of 17.3C (63.1F) on Wednesday and 15C (59F) on Thursday, when the photo was taken.

Ms Mottram said: "These numbers still need to be quality controlled by our climatologists and I am currently checking if these would be new records for this station for June, but given how warm it was it's easy to see why there was a lot melting!

"Our climate model simulations expect there to be a general decline in the length of the sea ice season around Greenland; how fast and how much is very much dependent on how much global temperature rises, but this week's warming is still a weather-driven extreme event so it's hard to pin it down to climate change alone."

In 2012, Greenland experienced the most melting on record, when, over a period of four days in July, 97% of the entire ice sheet indicated surface melting.

Commenting on the photo, Rosie Rogers, senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: "From Greenland's melting sea ice to the 50C heatwave scorching India, the impacts of the climate emergency are playing out all around us."