Greenland Ice Melt Has 'Gone Into Overdrive,' Says Scientists

Jan Cross
December 9, 2018

Glaciologist and climate scientist Luke Trusel of Rowan University, led a team of USA and European researchers who analyzed more than three centuries of melt patterns in ice cores from western Greenland.

Global warming is melting ice in Greenland at "unprecedented rates", experts warned.

"So there's two questions: Have we passed the threshold [and] secondly how fast is that [melting] going to occur", Professor King said.

The year 2012, in particular, was a standout for ice melt.

The long-term record the researchers built from these layered ice cores allowed them to spot a slight trend of increased melting across Greenland coinciding with the beginning of modern-day warming in the mid-1800s. Runoff over the last 20 years is 50% greater than pre-industrial, and 33% greater than the 20th century alone.

A team of scientists journeyed to Greenland in 2015 to observe and measure the rate that the colossal ice sheets in the region are melting. Researchers drilled at such high elevations for good reason.

Dr Trusel added: "Warming means more today than it did in the past".

Ice loss from Greenland is one of the biggest drivers of global sea level rise and threatens to cause devastating floods that could displace millions from their homes in coastal areas across the globe. This frozen meltwater creates distinct ice bands that pile up over years to form layers of densely packed ice.

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The ice cores contain layers that show how ice melted and refroze on contact with the snow-pack underneath each year, revealing the intensity of melting.

Traffic-pole-sized ice cores were sent to labs in the United States where their physical and chemical properties were assessed.

"As a result, Greenland melt is adding to sea level more than any time during the last three-and-a-half centuries, if not thousands of years".

Combining results from multiple ice cores with observations of melting from satellites and sophisticated climate models, the scientists were able to show that the thickness of the annual melt layers they observed clearly tracked not only how much melting was occurring at the coring sites, but also much more broadly across Greenland.

Writing in the journal Nature, the authors conclude that runoff in Greenland started to steadily rise when the first signs of climate change hit the Arctic, in the mid-19th century.

This man-made catastrophe has sensibly worsened during the 20th century, according to the co-author of the study, Dr Sarah Das, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The satellites used to study ice sheet melting around the world haven't been around long enough to capture a complete picture of the melting process.

It seems that icebergs which are calving into the ocean from the edge of glaciers are one component of the water re-entering the ocean and this way rising the sea levels. Data suggests that even small changes in temperature caused exponential increases in melting in recent years - a non-linear response that points to feedback effects.

Typically, ice on Greenland melts during the summer months and then accumulates in the winter.

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