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There isn't much to do at the Hotel Arctic except watch the icebergs flow by. The hotel is located in the town of Ilulissat, on the west coast of Greenland, four degrees north of the Arctic Circle. The icebergs originate some fifty miles away, at the end of a long and fast-moving ice stream known as the Jakobshavn Isbrae. They drift down a fjord and through a wide-mouthed bay, and, if they last long enough, end up in the North Atlantic. (It is likely that the iceberg encountered by the Titanic followed this route.)

To the tourists who visit the Hotel Arctic, the icebergs are a thrilling sight: beautiful and terrible in equal measure. They are a reminder of the immensity of nature and the smallness of man. To the people who spend more time in Ilulissat - native Greenlanders, European tour guides, American scientists -- the icebergs have come to acquire a different significance. Since the late nineteen-nineties, the Jakobshavn Isbrae has doubled its speed. In the process, the height of the ice stream has been dropping by up to fifty feet a year and the calving front has retreated by several miles. What locals now notice about the icebergs is not their power or immensity - though they are still powerful and immense - but a disquieting diminishment.

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