Greenland is experiencing its most significant melting event of the year due to rising temperatures in the Arctic. The amount of ice that melted just last Tuesday (27) would be enough to cover the entire state of Florida in two inches of water.
It is the third case of extreme melt on the continent in the last decade, a period during which the melt extended farther inland than the entire satellite era that began in the 1970s.
Greenland lost more than 8.5 billion tonnes of surface mass on Tuesday and 18.4 billion tonnes since Sunday, according to the Meteorological Institute of Denmark. While this week’s total ice loss is not as extreme as a similar event in 2019 – a record melting year – the area of the ice sheet that is melting is larger.
“It’s a significant meltdown,” Ted Scambos, senior researcher at the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, told CNN. “On July 27, most of the eastern half of Greenland, from the northern tip to the southern tip, melted, which is unusual.”
As man-made climate change warms the planet, ice loss has increased rapidly. According to a recent study published in the journal Cryosphere, Earth has lost an impressive 28 trillion tons of ice since the mid-1990s, a large part of which has come from the Arctic, including the Greenland ice sheet.
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen surface melting in Greenland become more severe and erratic,” said Thomas Slater, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds and co-author of the report. “As the atmosphere continues to heat up in Greenland, events like yesterday’s extreme melt will become more frequent.”
While the current ice melt in Greenland is not a record, the magnitude of these events is a clear sign of how climate change is creating more melting periods.
“Overall, we’re seeing that Greenland melts more often,” said Scambos, who is also the author of updates for Greenland’s National Snow and Ice Data Center. “In previous decades or centuries, it is extremely rare to rise above freezing temperatures on the summit of Greenland.”
In 2019, Greenland spilled about 532 billion tons of ice into the sea. During that year, an unexpected hot spring and a heat wave in July caused nearly the entire surface of the ice sheet to begin to melt. The global sea level permanently increased by 1.5 millimeters as a result.
As Greenland’s surface continues to melt, Slater said coastal cities around the world are vulnerable to flooding, especially when extreme weather coincides with high tides. The Greenland melt is expected to raise global sea levels between 2 and 10 centimeters by the end of the century, he added.
Huge ice sheets can quickly melt when the air temperature is hot. But warmer ocean water is also eroding the ice sheet around the edges.
As humans release heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the warming atmosphere thaws cool white ice – which reflects the sun’s energy back into space – on the surface. This exposes the darker ice below, which absorbs solar energy and causes further melting.
In addition, warmer coastal water melts the ice sheet around the edges, breaking up massive icebergs that contribute to sea level rise.
Scientists say the trends in which climate change is accelerating are pretty clear and that unless emissions are reduced, these extreme events will continue to occur more often.
“While such events are worrisome, the science is clear,” Slater said. “Significant climate targets and actions may still limit how much global sea levels will rise this century, reducing the damage caused by severe flooding to people and infrastructure around the world.”
(Text translated, read original in English here)