Greenland's massive ice sheet is melting at an alarming rate, with enough ice melting in a single day this week to cover the whole state of Florida in two inches of water, according to experts.
According to Danish government statistics, the melting has gone deep into Greenland's vast icy core, with the ice sheet losing 8.5 billion tons of surface material alone on Tuesday. According to the Polar Portal monitoring website, another 8.4 billion tons of ice was lost on Thursday.
The Extent of the Melting
The extent of the melting ice is so great that the meltwater generated on Tuesday alone was enough to flood the whole US state of Florida in two inches (5cm) of water. In addition, Greenland's melting ice pours into the ocean as water, contributing to the continuous rise in global sea level caused by human-driven climate change.
"It's a really high amount of melting, and it will undoubtedly transform the landscape of Greenland," said Marco Tedesco, a glacier researcher at Columbia University and a Nasa adjunct scientist.
According to Tedesco, a ridge of high pressure is sucking and trapping warmer air from the south "like a vacuum cleaner" and holding it over eastern Greenland, resulting in an all-time high temperature of 19.8°C on Wednesday. As a result, seasonal snow melts away, exposing darker core ice, which melts and contributes to sea-level rise.
"These kinds of atmospheric phenomena have occurred in the past, but they are now becoming longer and more frequent," Tedesco added.
"Snow acts as a protective blanket, and once it's gone, you're stuck into a cycle of quicker and faster melting, so who knows what will happen now with the melting?" It's incredible to see how vulnerable these massive ice sheets are. I'm astounded at the strength of the forces working on them."
The melting season in Greenland generally lasts from June through August. According to Danish government data, the island has lost more than 100 billion tons of ice since the beginning of June this year. While the extent of the melting is less severe than in 2019 - when 11 billion tons of ice was lost in a single day - the area impacted in 2021 is considerably bigger.
"It's impossible to say if this will be a record year for melting," said Brad Lipovsky, a glaciologist at the University of Washington. "There's a ton of warm and moist air above the ice sheet that's generating an unbelievable amount of melt," he said.
"What concerns me is the political response or lack thereof. Sea-level rise is like a slow-going locomotive that you can't stop once it starts moving. So it isn't good news."
Tipping Point and Sea Level Rising
Although melting all of Greenland's ice would raise global sea levels by approximately 6 meters (20 feet), experts have warned that the world's biggest island is approaching a tipping point owing to the stresses imposed by global warming.
According to experts, Greenland's ice is melting faster than it has in the last 12,000 years, with ice loss averaging one million tons per minute in 2019. Since 1994, Greenland and Antarctica, the earth's other polar area, have lost 6.3 trillion tons of ice.
This pace of ice loss, which is increasing as global temperatures rise, is modifying ocean currents, affecting marine ecosystems, and posing a direct threat to the world's low-lying coastal towns, which are at risk of flooding. According to a 2019 study, the Greenland ice sheet may raise global sea levels by 5 to 33 centimeters by the end of the century. According to Lipovsky, the globe is on pace for "the mid to high end of that."
Tedesco described the situation as "extremely concerning." "The action is clear: we must achieve net zero emissions while simultaneously protecting vulnerable communities along the shore. This will be a major issue for our coastal cities."
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