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Greenland's Melting Ice Breaks Record, More In Store

Aug 16, 2012 07:51 AM EDT
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In July this year, a huge chunk of iceberg that was twice the size of Manhattan had parted from Greenland's Petermann glacier. This event had signified a dramatic episode in the environment due to global warming or climate change and rise in ocean temperatures.

Similar instances of ice melting all over the Greenland brok the seasonal record August 8. According to reports produced by Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric sciences at The City College of New York, the melting season of Greenland spans from June to September. this year was different as the cumulative melting in the first week of August broke the record of 2010.

"With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year  the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979. This spells a change for the face of southern Greenland, with the ice sheet thinning at its edges and lakes on top of glaciers proliferating." said Tedesco.

In order to quantify the rate at which these changes were occurring, the researcher took into consideration the duration and the level of melting throughout the season across the whole ice sheet. They did this by using data collected by microwave satellite sensors. They calculated the cumulative index which estimates the 'strength' of the melting season.

The new report that claimed the cumulative melt in 2012 was greater than that of 2010, and this was confirmed by Dr. Thomas Mote, professor of Geography at the University of Georgia and colleague of Tedesco.

The Greenland ice sheet had melted over 97 percent of its surface.

"This is not part of natural variations anymore," said NASA glaciologist Eric Rignot, who camped on Petermann 10 years ago.

"That event was exceptional in the sense that it was an extremely rare event," said Tedesco. "Imagine Rio de Janeiro under a layer of snow and you get the idea."

"The extreme melting detected in mid-July, on the other hand, generated liquid water that refroze after a few days. This changed the physical properties of the snowpack -- making a slushy layer that turned into an icy crust after refreezing -- but very likely it did not add to the runoff of meltwater that makes sea levels rise."

According to the study, Greenland experienced extreme melting in nearly every region including the west, northwest and northeast of the continent,  but severity of this was noticed at high elevations. 

"We have to be careful because we are only talking about a couple of years and the history of Greenland happened over millennia," cautioned Tedesco. "But as far as we know now, the warming that we see in the Arctic is responsible for triggering processes that enhance melting and for the feedback mechanisms that keep it going. Looking over the past few years, the exception has become part of the norm."

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