BY: GEZA TATRALLYAY
Arctic Meltdown, a gripping environmental thriller, is set against the backdrop of the melting polar icecap and the ensuing jostling for jurisdiction over additional seabed resources. Hanne Kristensen, a beautiful Danish geologist, has to contend with a corrupted UN process, China’s growing interest in Arctic resources and maritime routes, Russian military aggression and the resulting international tension to try to save the world from war and the Arctic from environmental catastrophe. A potential complication in this real-life situation is that resource rich but population poor Greenland is egged on toward independence from Denmark by Chinese money and Russian military domination. This is a book that presages what is actually happening in the Arctic today.
Warming Land, Northern Greenland—Friday, August 12, twenty-twenty
It was the time of day, and the season, Hanne loved most in the Arctic. The astonishing warmth of the sun, the vivid colors of the sky and the sea, the brilliant white of the ice against the browns and grays and purples of the land, the blues and greens of the fjord, and the solitude.
Yes, above all, the solitude. Particularly when the men were away from their base camp at the sheltered end of this remote fjord, and she could strip to the buff and walk peacefully along the water’s edge, while all her cells rejoiced in the rare heat of the sun.
Hanne performed the same routine on each of these very few, lovely Arctic summer days when she was alone: after a leisurely breakfast of instant coffee, rice cakes and freeze-dried strawberries, she would fill two buckets with the crystal clear, glacial water of the fjord, set them in the sun to heat up, and place, on a nearby boulder, a bar of soap, some shampoo and a thick towel. She would then take her sleeping bag out from the tent, and march it down to another big flat rock about fifty meters along the shore, where she would shake it well and spread it to air out. When the sun reached its zenith—or sometimes a little before, if she could not wait any longer—she would take off all her clothes, quickly wash her hair and scrub herself clean. Then, with blond hair and shapely body rapidly toweled down, she would walk along the shore of the protected inlet—allowing the cooling breeze coming off the water and the heat of the noonday sun to finish drying her—in the direction of the rock where she had spread her sleeping bag.
Today, for some reason, Hanne felt a happiness that she could not ascribe just to the summer warmth and the enjoyment of her routine. Maybe it was the fulfillment of having done a good job, of being close to completing the mission, and perhaps the prospect of going home to Copenhagen in a few days when the men returned. And there, to see her dear ones: her father and mother, her sister, and her nieces, Alise and Madja—Hanne loved the little girls—her best friend from school, Kristi, and, of course, her boyfriend, Jens. Although she was less sure of that, now that she had been geographically separated from him again for well over two months. Hanne was not fully convinced that Jens was the right partner for her: she found him too focused on his work with the Green Liberation Front, with little concern for anything else, sometimes even her. She had the sense that he held her back, and did not nourish her need to grow, to express her wild side. Her doubts about the relationship usually intensified during these periods when she was away from Copenhagen doing fieldwork.
No matter, Hanne was happy: she broke into a run, started to dance around and sing, waving the towel above her head, then erupted in the scintillating laugh that had made Jens fall in love with her. She slowed to a stroll, and coming to the rock, positioned her towel as a pillow and stretched her sleek body along the open sleeping bag to regale in the warmth of the full Arctic sun.
There were maybe only five days, perhaps seven now that every summer the temperatures were higher and it stayed warm longer, when one—even a born Scandinavian—could think of frolicking around naked in Northern Greenland. It was ironic, Hanne had often thought to herself, that this, where they were, was called Warming Land—after the Danish botanist and ecologist Eugen Warming—and not because the land and the sea all around were heating up due to global warming. Hanne and the two younger men working under her were stationed in this remote part of the world to study the effect of climate change on the glaciers of Northern Greenland, particularly the Petermann Glacier, just west of the Warming Land Peninsula. Andreas Hansen and Bent Pederson had taken a five-day side trip to study the impact of climate change a year after a huge ice island had broken off from the glacier and to measure the overall shrinkage during the past year.
Hanne’s routine on these solitary, gorgeous Arctic summer days, lying there naked on the big gray rock slab, included allowing herself to drift into erotic imaginings. In the first several weeks at Warming Land, still inside her sleeping bag in the tent, she would conjure up some of the times she had made love with Jens. And, occasionally, the off-and-on relationship she continued to have with Kristi, who had been her very first sexual partner.
But now, here on the rock, these vivid thoughts—yes, they were like movies—were more generalized, with beautiful, muscled men she did not know. And perhaps because she had been away from Jens for so long, more urgent, more violent. On these occasions, she would close her eyes, and start to arouse herself by stroking her breasts; her hands would move lower to fondle her pubic area, eventually bringing herself to a crescendo of pleasure. What she enjoyed most though, was the involuntary trembling of her entire body after coital release, and then the drifting off into a euphoric state of half-sleep, half-wakefulness under the Arctic sun.
This time, Hanne was brought back to consciousness by what she thought was the far away buzzing of an airplane engine. She opened her eyes to the glare of the sun and sat up quickly to search the sky. Noises carry far in the Arctic, and it was so rare to hear the otherwise familiar sound of an airplane engine here—only the odd AWACS plane high in the sky above the Kennedy Channel, or a Canadian transport supplying CFS Alert over on Ellesmere Island, or perhaps the twice weekly Danish Air Force flight monitoring Greenland’s shores—that Hanne knew them all, and this definitely was different. This was the faint sound of the far-off motor of a smaller plane, a Beaver, or an Otter perhaps.
And then, just as Hanne stood up from her rock, still searching for the aircraft, the big clumsy looking bird suddenly appeared from the other side of the striated bluff bordering the fjord, and it loomed much, much larger and closer than Hanne had thought based on the engine drone. In fact, in a moment, it flew right over her, twice tipping its wings…It was only then that Hanne remembered that she stood there gazing at the sky with no clothes on.
As the Otter—yes, it was an Otter—flew low over the fjord to check for a path free of ice floes and underwater rocks, only to do a tight turn and scoot rapidly back towards her, finally skimming the surface with its pontoons, Hanne grabbed the towel and started running toward her tent. She was halfway there when the plane came to a stop in the shallows about fifty meters offshore, and the door was flung open by a tall, tanned man who yelled through cupped hands, “Ahoy there! We’re coming ashore.”
When Hanne reached the tent, a quick glance backwards told her that another two men had also climbed onto the pontoons and the three of them were laughing while they rapidly inflated a rubber dinghy. She could just imagine the lewd remarks and sexual allusions they were making, but decided she didn’t care. She had a great body, and so what if they had seen her naked. Inside the tent, she quickly pulled on her jeans—she could not find her panties in the mess—and a turtleneck, and reemerged, pushing her hair out of her face, just as the men were paddling ashore. To her shore.
“Fancy meeting a gorgeous lady up here at the North Pole,” the tall man started, walking toward her while the other two pulled the boat up on the rocks. “I thought only Santa Claus and sex-starved musk ox lived here.” Hanne not only did not like the man’s blatant sexism, but she also found his condescending attitude and Australian accent annoying.
“Hello. Hanne Kristensen. I’m Chief of the Glaciology and Oceanography Department of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland,” she said icily. “My two colleagues are due to come back from a field trip at any moment. Latest tomorrow.” Hanne wanted to let these strangers know right up front that she was not alone in the high Arctic.
“Hanne, pleased to meet you. Although I think we’ve already been fortunate enough to be introduced to…most of you. But that was from afar,” the tall man said with a smug little laugh. “My name is Lachlan McTierney. Lock’s good enough. This is Jack Scott…And that one over there is Will O’Brian. We’re exploring here for Greenland Earth Resources, an Australian mining company.”
“Good to meet you…” But she still needed convincing.
“That was quite a show you put on for us as we came down…”
“Sorry…I didn’t think anyone would be watching.”
“No worries. It was a pleasure to see.” Lock clearly delighted in making Hanne blush, but once he had, he was ready to get on with business.
“Would you mind if we set up camp alongside? This seems like an easy place to pitch our tents. Besides, we would enjoy some new company. I’m getting tired of talking to Will, Jack and myself.”
In less than an hour, the Australians had their tents pitched: one to sleep in, and a bigger one to use as an office, kitchen, dining and living room. For the Arctic, this tent was quite spacious, and they even had four folding chairs and a camp table.
“We’ve got some work to catch up on now, but will you do us the honor of dining with us?” Lock strolled over and asked Hanne as the other two miners finished moving their stuff in from the Otter. “At six, does that work for you?”
“Thank you. That will give me time to finish my work for the day too.”
The sun was still bright but lower in the sky at six ten when Hanne made her way over to the Aussies’ tent, with mixed feelings of excitement and just a tinge of trepidation. She did like the idea of company—solitude was fine, but only when alleviated by the possibility of eventual interaction. And, she too, was getting a little bored with the silent meals she shared with Andreas and Bent. She was not sure though, about these Australian miners. They seemed a bit crass, sexist—and there were three of them and only one of her. Lock—he was a bit of a puzzle—seemed intelligent, and at times kind and pleasant, and sometimes, well, downright off-putting. But good looking, unlike Bent and Andreas, who were typical geeky scientists.
She knew she was at their mercy in this remote spot. But Hanne, at thirty-one, had seen a lot, and she was confident that she would be able to handle any situation.
She did not bother to change, only adding a tight baby-blue fleece over the navy cotton turtleneck, but did, of course, wash her hands and face and comb her shoulder-length blond hair. She had no makeup, but never used much anyway. She felt that the heat of the sun soaked up by her cells had fortified her, and with a confident flourish, she flipped open the flap of the Aussies’ tent.
Inside, the camp table was set for four with real china and silverware, and wine glasses. An open bottle of red stood in the middle. The three men had already started drinking, and Will, the chef, had an apron on and was busying himself over a small gas camp stove with a large skillet on top that had an entire fish in it.
“Arctic char,” Lock said, smiling as he handed Hanne a wine glass. “Fresh from the fjord. Here, let me pour you some vino. Hope you can handle an Aussie red with the fish. D’Arenberg McLaren Vale Shiraz 2007.”
Hanne knew nothing about Australian wines, but was quite glad to have a drink. Even though she was used to white wine with fish. The last alcohol she had consumed was when she went out for a goodbye dinner with Jens at the end of June. She had never thought she would be served a fine vintage wine this far north of the Arctic Circle.
Dinner was delicious: the fresh char, caught by Will while the other two had settled in and started to work, accompanied by quinoa and freeze-dried broccoli, followed by vanilla pudding with a bilberry coulis, and, of course, several bottles of the D’Arenberg. It was a pleasant change from the rather vapid rations supplied by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, and Hanne found that she was thoroughly enjoying the evening, and changing her mind about the men, especially Lock.
When Jack referred to him as “Prof,” Hanne took the occasion to enquire what their mission was in Northern Greenland. She had heard of Greenland Earth Resources—in fact, she had been briefed on all the mining, oil and gas companies doing business on the large island—but did not know they had any interests this far north.
“My specialty is the exploration and exploitation of underwater mineral deposits, especially on continental shelves. I teach geology at the University of Beijing. GER took me on as a consultant for the summer…You know, Hanne, based on what we know about the geological formations here and in the adjacent continental shelf area, and the geophysical data, we believe there could be significant rare earth deposits off the coast and extending along the eastern side of the Lomonosov Ridge. We’re here on an exploratory mission.”
“The Lomonosov Ridge! That is a sensitive topic…”
“Don’t I know it!”
“I was part of the joint Danish-Canadian Expeditions, LOMROG I in 2007 and LOMROG II in 2009. Sorry, that’s the acronym we use for the Lomonosov Ridge of Greenland project. I also spearheaded the Danish claims that we submitted in 2012, 13 and 14…and the presentation in 2016…”
“To UNCLOS? And LOMROG II? On the Swedish boat, the Oden? Very interesting!”
“We found the adaptations made for the collection of seismic information—the multi-beam echo sounder, with the integrated sub-bottom profiles—very innovative.”
“Yes, it helped us gather some great data…”
“Hanne, I haven’t seen all the material that you generated, but Denmark’s claim is interesting from what I know about it. Your submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf…”
“You can rest assured that the case we put together is strong.”
“Well, just so you know, my view is that the Lomonosov Ridge is clearly an oceanic elevation and not the extension of any continental shelf. I teach this stuff in Beijing in a crossover course to International Law.”
“I’m glad you’re not on the UN Commission then. Because our submission proves that it is. An extension of the shelf off Northern Greenland.”
“Good luck defending it. With some of the geezers on that Commission, you might just be able to carry it off.”
“What about the Russian claim?”
“Hanne, as I’m sure you know, the first Russian submission was thrown out by the Commission already in 2001.”
“Yes, of course…”
“Since then, they’ve made a lot of noise—including planting that titanium flag at the North Pole some years ago. Then parachute dropping those commandos…”
“Some real showmanship that was.”
“And then of course they created the new Northern Command and the four commando units…plus, they have been building all those bases and airfields up there.”
“Yes, that is certainly all very intimidating…”
“And that Andrei Laptov fellow—you know, that famous Polar Explorer—he is also an elected politician, I think—has been quite outspoken too…They were working on another submission, and were supposed to resubmit in 2009, but only did so finally in February 2016. This second submission claimed the additional 1.2 million square kilometers of continental shelf, just as the first rejected one did. And there is significant overlap with ours. As well as the Canadian one, submitted in 2019.”
“I suspect the Ruskis came up with some flaws in their original argumentation, hence the long time they needed to paper it over. The little I have looked at the Siberian side, the geology there looks quite complicated. For one, the contact between the Ridge and the Siberian shelf is severely faulted.”
“Hmm. That is our view as well.”
“In fact, there may very well be a break there that would eliminate any semblance of legitimacy for their claim to half the Arctic.”
“They must have had to go pretty deep with their seismic soundings to try and prove otherwise and I suspect the deeper structure may not help them either. But it seems that they are now asserting that UNCLOS has essentially agreed their claim.”
“Hmm. It couldn’t be final until all the claims are considered. And perhaps they will even need to be taken together. In any case, we have made our submission and we are quite happy with it. Now we wait until we are called to defend it. Meantime though, any summer I can, I prefer to spend up here.”
Lock proposed that they go for a walk while Jack and Will cleaned up. Hanne was glad to get out into the fresh evening air. The sun was lower in the sky, and an Arctic chill had descended on the land, so Hanne zipped her fleece up.
“Tell me about yourself, Hanne. What’s a beautiful woman like you doing up here in the solitary north these days?”
“Right now, my team and I—we’re studying the shrinking of the glaciers in Greenland. It’s scary what is going on, as I’m sure you know. Two huge ice islands broke off Petermann in 2010 and 2012—the first one, two hundred and sixty square kilometers, four times the size of Manhattan, and the second one half that size—and that’s after considerable degradation in the years before. Since then, there has been some growth, but in 2017 we saw a new rift develop and we are afraid that this may result in another huge chunk breaking off. Petermann has one of the longest tongues reaching into the sea and sooner or later we will see some of this calve. My colleagues are out there doing some monitoring and final measurements right now.”
“I guess, in the long run the melting ice could be good for Greenland and bad for the rest of the world. Global warming will unlock some of Greenland’s rich resource base and make it more habitable. But it’ll cause drought and flooding in many other parts of the world. For example, my country.”
“What is unbelievable is that the world’s politicians have not been able to agree on how to make a big enough dent in greenhouse gas emissions. Copenhagen in 2009 was a disaster. Cancun did not amount to much either. Durban, too, was a bust. At least some progress was made in Paris—but then the USA announced they are pulling out. COP 25, too, was disappointing. And America, China, India—the largest emitters in the world—are still at best only making token efforts and continuing to burn coal.”
“Yeah. Not much good comes out of those big meetings. Other than hot air. Excuse the overworked pun…”
“At least we have the youth movement worldwide led by Greta Thunberg. But I’m afraid it’s too late already. The repercussions globally—except for maybe a country like Greenland—will be terrible.”
“Yes, the terrible fires in my country … and the floods in Indonesia and elsewhere…”
They walked in silence for a while, away from the camp. Their path along the shore of the fjord led them to the rock where Hanne had lain earlier in the day, and she sensed herself become intensely aware of the man beside her. She turned and looked at Lock and realized that she felt an attraction, an animal magnetism, draw her towards him. Maybe it was the particular spot—with her sleeping bag still spread out, ever so invitingly—and the erotic memory of lying there naked in the full sun, or the satisfied sensation of having drunk good wine and eaten a delicious dinner, or, for that matter, the feeling of desolation in the face of the enormous problems they had been talking about, but Hanne yearned for physical contact.
And Lock, seeing this in her eyes, and perhaps also conjuring up the image of her naked body on that rock, felt the Arctic fever he had heard about from the Inuit. He reached out to her, drew her to himself: his lips found hers, his tongue parted them, exploring the sensuous, soft inside. Before they knew it, she and he both tore at their clothes and threw them haphazardly on top of the sleeping bag left there by Hanne. Then, when they were both naked, Lock gently pulled Hanne down on top, and entered her. It did not take either of them long to climax, such was their hunger.
Afterwards, they lay on the rock in each other’s arms, relishing the contact of skin to skin, lips to lips, body to body. Infinitely better, thought Hanne, than earlier, all by herself. Or, for that matter, with Jens, although that was a distant memory by now.
It was not long before the cooling Arctic evening imposed itself on the new lovers, bringing shivers: they got up from their rock, put their clothes on, and slowly walked back to the tents. When they reached Hanne’s, she turned her face to Lock’s for one last kiss and went inside.
Lock went down to the water’s edge, picked up a few flat stones and skipped them over the surface.
Only much later did he go into the tent that he shared with the other men.