Greenland Melting Faster than Ever


“Without acting soon to dramatically reduce the burning of fossil fuels that is raising global temperatures, most or all of Greenland’s ice could melt, raising sea levels over seven metres.” 

Throughout history, there have been great changes in the Earth’s climate. In the last 650,000 years, our planet has experienced seven cycles of glacial expansion and contraction.

Though most of these changes are attributed to small deviations in Earth’s orbit which affect the amount of solar energy received, the present warming tendency is most likely – 95% probable according to NASA – the result of human activity. 

A recent study published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” shows that Greenland’s ice is melting faster than ever before. Previous studies in the same field have been focused on the southeast and northwest region of Greenland where the largest glaciers are located. Older research shows that the melting of ice began in the 1980s and has increased six-fold since then. The study found that the loss of ice from 2003 to 2013 came from the southwestern region of Greenland which is deprived of large glaciers.

Michael Bevis, author and a geoscientist at the Ohio State University said “Greenland, the world’s biggest island, appears to have hit a tipping point around 2002-2003 when the ice loss rapidly accelerated.” He further added, “By 2012 the annual ice loss was ‘unprecedented’ at nearly four times the rate in 2003.”

"We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers. But now we recognize a second serious problem: Increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea.

“Over the entire period, even though we have more and better data now than in the 1970s, we are able to construct a robust, comprehensive and very precise record of mass change.” said Eric Rignot, ice researcher at the University of California Irvine, who was also a part of the study.

“The new study, which incorporates older satellite data with the newer data, paints a richer picture of how the Greenland ice sheet’s mass has changed over time. Unfortunately, it’s not a pretty one” said Ellyn Enderlin, ice sheet researcher at the Boise State.

The results showed that in the 1970s the Greenland mass stayed in a natural range of variability. But, since the 1980s ice has started decreasing rapidly in all parts of Greenland. Research shows that there is enough water to raise the sea levels over seven metres.

“The mass loss has increased six fold since the 1980s, which shows that the response of the ice sheet to climate warming is very rapid and very strong” said Rignot.

According to the data gathered from NASA’s GRACE satellite and GPS stations, Greenland has lost 280 billion tons of ice per year from 2002 to 2016.

“This is going to cause an additional sea-level rise. We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point. In the 20th century alone, Greenland has lost around 9,000 billion tons of ice which have raised sea levels by 25 millimetres” said Bevis.

Another worrisome concern is the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, which has lost ice at an average of 252 billion tons a year over the past decade. If fully melted, it can raise the sea level up to 57 meters.

The cause of the rise in sea level

Global warming is the cause of the ice caps melting. Just a one-degree Celsius rise in temperature can cause the ice to melt.

“It used to be rare to get temperatures above zero degrees on the ice sheet, but no longer” said Bevis.

Researchers in Greenland have found that global warming, coupled with a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation which cause an irregular change in the atmospheric pressure and brings warm, sunny summer weather to the western side of Greenland has led to the rapid surface melt of the ice sheet during summers.

Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State said, “Without acting soon to dramatically reduce the burning of fossil fuels that is raising global temperatures, most or all of Greenland’s ice could melt, raising sea levels over seven metres.”  He further added, “This would occur on a time scale of centuries. However, there is a warming threshold that could be crossed in a few decades or less and, if exceeded long enough, the meltdown of Greenland would be irreversible.”


Things we can do to help reduce Global warming

There are small things all of us can do to reduce our carbon footprint, such as:

  • Decreasing the use of fossil fuels. Try using more public transport and walking whenever possible.

  • Reduce our time in the shower and try to shower in the midday during the hottest hours so we reduce our consumption of hot water.

  • Foster renewable energies wherever possible.

  • Planting trees. A mature canopy tree absorbs enough carbon and releases enough oxygen to sustain two human beings.

  • Reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products.

  • Recycling waste to prevent environmental pollution, especially plastics.

  • Educating others on how to reduce their carbon footprint.

It is our duty to take a small day to day steps to save ourselves from the forthcoming disaster.