With over 16 years experience in the field of both print and electronic journalism GAURAV C.SAWANT is a Deputy Editor with Headlines Today. He has covered conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, anti insurgency operations in the north east, the nine week long war in Kargil, seen action in Sierra Leone, Iraq, Lebanon and Nepal. He is the author of Dateline Kargil: A correspondent's nine week account from the battlefront published by Macmillan. He has covered terror attacks in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and has been tracking anti terrorist operations closely. With six Para jumps including two sky dives, the writer is the first journalist in India to be awarded `wings' by the Indian Navy. He is an alumnus of the prestigious St.Stephen's College, Delhi University. He recently covered the crisis in Egypt and the war in Libya
''Lucky bird to Arctic Sunrise...Permission to lift off.'' The Greenpeace helicopter lucky bird lifted off effortless and so did my spirits. For the first time I was to have a bird's eye view of Greenland's famous Hellheim glacier, one of the largest and also dangerous. The five seater Eurocopter 120 B flew low over the hundreds and thousands of ice bergs breaking off from the glacier and literally choking the mouth of Sermilik Fjord in the area.
I was flying but will we be lucky enough to land on the glacier that was the million dollar question. While the glacier a part of the Arctic Greenland ice sheet is supposed to be rock solid, glaciologists and scientists over the past couple of years have found to their dismay it isn't. This year the news is far more depressing. the Glacier is not only melting faster it is breaking into millions of pieces and ice bergs are increasing the volume of the sea. the impact ... from New York to Sydney and from Mumbai to the Sundarbans, scientists fear the sea will continue to eat up more land.
With me is Professor Gordon Hamilton, a glaciologist from the University of Maine, USA. He and his team have planted several global positioning systems and cameras along the glacier and on the glacier. The GPS devices are moving with the glacier. The speed is alarming...25 metres a day. Why are the glaciers that that too in the Arctic moving so fast and breaking up? There is cutting edge scientific activity underway off the Arctic coast of Greenland.
The helicopter door is open. My camera colleague Jari Stalh, a veteran of several polar missions is leaning out in sub zero temperatures and filming. The pilot Martin Duggam swoops low to enable Jari to get better pictures. I miss a heartbeat. It is almost as if we can lean out and touch the collapsing ice wall. Visually it is a treat. We are flying over the artic ice sheet. It should be one solid mass of ice. But it isn't. Knife edged jagged ice peaks jut out into the sky. All crumbling or ready to crumble. Hellheim is one of the biggest glaciers. Though there is no scientific evidence but the folklore is that the mighty Titanic sank due to one of the ice bergs that came off either Hellheim or the other Greenlandic glaciers.
The pilot takes us to the scary part of the glacier. it is not only very crevassed but there are rivers that are flowing along. The helicopter lands on a thick ice sheet. The pilot first gently lowers the bird, tests the strength of the ice, adds a little pressure but the rotors are still whirring ready to take off if the ice gives way and then lands. We wait for a few seconds wondering if the ice will give way. But Prof Hamilton and Martin are confident. I jump out along with the professor. We walk some distance and stop. There is a river flowing down the glacier. Fast and furious. It forms a whirlpool some distance away and water gushes down. God forbid if someone falls, he will just go straight down hundreds of metres in freezing waters. I step back.
It is waters like these that are a cause of concern for the glaciologists. This water acts like a lubricant under the glacier forcing it to tilt forward and ultimately fall in the icy waters of the arctic. ``It is like few cubes of ice added to your drink. The volume increases. Where does that sea water go when huge chunks of ice fall in it? well it moves into land,'' explains the professor.
For him rising sea level is not a climate issue. For him this is now a national security issue. And he gives me the example of India. Land in the Sundarban area is being eaten up by sea. What do farmers do...look for new land. It will lead to violence. But imagine when countries start losing land. what will populations do. For example in the years to come when Bangladesh loses land to the sea, the population will look to India. There will be large scale population movements in less than a decade, he predicts.
Several small island and some island countries in the south Pacific will be wiped off the globe, he warns. The melting Greenland ice sheet will be the catalyst but the reason is climate change. Our helicopter takes off again and we land on one side of the glacier. Prof Hamilton's team has been studying the Greenlandic glaciers for several years and each year the picture is more alarming than the previous years. This year he says it is most depressing. Several time lapse cameras along the glacier have captured the collapse - the calving of the glacier. The Greenpeace team is hopeful the new scientific data will influence global leaders when they meet in Copenhagen in December to sit back and realise the enormity of the situation.
On Board the Arctic Sunrise Melanie Duchin, the Greenpeace campaigner from USA says the new scientific data points to a far more alarming picture than earlier anticipated. The political leaders world over need to appreciate there is no half way house when it comes to arresting the damage. 40 per cent green house gasses cut by the developed world and at least 15 per cent by developing world is what the environment lobby is hoping for.
After all we want our children and their children to live in a clean world. We must clean up our act...At least for their sake.