Dear reader,

Introduction IMAU newsletter by Michiel van den Broeke

I vividly remember the moment I first set foot on the Greenland ice sheet. It was in July 1990, and for my master thesis I was lucky enough to join the Greenland Ice Margin EXperiment (GIMEX), an initiative of Hans Oerlemans. During GIMEX, for the first time, multiple meteorological stations measured the climate of the ice sheet along a transect from the margin to the high interior. The data were sent to a base camp on the tundra, just in front of the ice sheet, where we camped. Quite an adventure for a 22-year-old![1]

But why bother you with this sentimental journey? It may sound incredible now, but at the time, just over 30 years ago, nobody actively connected melting of the Greenland ice sheet to global warming and contemporary sea level rise. Hans Oerlemans sent us there because he was curious about the physical processes driving melt, so that we could improve our models. It would take another fifteen years and many more expeditions and satellite launches before the picture emerged of a Greenland ice sheet that is rapidly losing mass and contributing significantly to sea level rise. Realizing that was quite a shock, as the ice sheet holds enough water to raise global mean sea level by more than seven meters.

So, in just 30 years, the poor Greenland ice sheet went from being the study object of a modest, curiosity-driven science expedition to the center of attention in a full-blown global climate crisis. In this crisis, the IPCC sixth assessment report received more attention than the three previous editions combined (although the main message hardly changed). Ever more young and not-so-young climate activists, including scientists, make their voices heard ever more loudly. And it works! The COP26 climate conference was front page news for weeks in a row, and divestments from fossil fuels and sharpened national emission reductions all point in the direction of real progress. 

Will it be fast enough to save the Greenland ice sheet? Time will tell. But for me one thing is certain: in the end, the scientific knowledge on which all climate policies are based is rooted in curiosity.


Michiel van den Broeke

IMAU newsletter November 2021


[1] The interested reader can download the field report of this and other IMAU Ice and Climate expeditions here: