It’s 8 o’clock on a crisp Greenland evening. The air tastes like a fresh bubbling spring, the result of the steady gusts of wind blowing over the nearby glacier, my guide explains. A puff of diesel pollutes my senses as we bounce our way over this jagged landscape of rock and ice on an ATV. The small hunting village of Ittoqqortoormiit is on Greenland’s northeast coast. The 477 Inuits who call this territory home live in isolation and relative peace. But today we’re on the look-out for an unlikely predator.
"They come very early in the morning and very late at night," my guide Erling Madsen shouts over the engine and the waves of Walrus Bay crashing against a 50-foot cliff two feet from where our wheels grind earth. We’re heading to where that predator was first spotted. "A hunter called me. He saw it heading into town," Madsen said, his rifle strapped to my back as I hold on tightly to his shoulders.
Ittoqqortoormiit is one of the most remote villages in the Western Hemisphere. Not a single road connects the community to the rest of the world. Only a bumpy helicopter ride in and out once a week takes visitors to a world where seal fur and musk ox meat are popular forms of currency. Global trends have filtered through over the years, but usually after the rest of the world has moved on. Justin Bieber’s “Baby” is a current favorite among the village’s small teen population.
When it comes to climate change, however, there is a new world order and Ittoqqortoormiit is on the frontlines. Earlier this year scientists reported that the U.S. climate has changed as a result of global warming. “Summers are longer and hotter… Winters are generally shorter and warmer,” the report explained. This is old news to a town that straddles Greenland’s ice sheet—or what scientists call ground zero for climate change.
"We have a front row seat," said Madsen as we disembarked from our ATV. Madsen used to be the mayor of this northeastern territory, but today he acts like a sheriff. "Those are his tracks," he says pointing to depressions in the ground. The threat? Polar bears.
Read the rest of the story and view Pulitzer Center grantee Jonathan Vigliotti’s project: As Greenland’s Ice Melts, Polar Bears Turn on Humans