Published: Fri, December 07, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Greenland’s Ice Sheet Is Melting At A Fast Pace, Scientists Say

Greenland’s Ice Sheet Is Melting At A Fast Pace, Scientists Say

The ice sheet has the potential to raise global sea levels by 23 feet if it melts in its entirety.

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.

Greenland is melting faster today than it has at any time in the last 350 years, and probably much longer, new research finds. The melting and freezing cycle also makes ice below the surface less permeable, so more runoff is shunted to the ocean rather than trickling down into the ice sheet.

The melting of Greenland's ice sheet is one of the main culprits behind the rising sea levels around the globe. "We demonstrate that Greenland ice is more sensitive to warming today than in the past - it responds non-linearly due to positive feedbacks inherent to the system".

While huge chunks of ice popping off Greenland's margins get more attention, the steady runoff of water from its surface is now the largest contributor to Greenland's rapid slim-down.

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"We can show that the recent increase in melt and runoff from Greenland over the past two decades, in response to warming temperatures, is exceptional and unprecedented ('off the charts')", stated Sarah Das, a geologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and co-author of the study. And though we don't know exactly what that temperature tipping point is, "what's clear is that the more we warm, the more ice melts".

The research says the melting could contribute to rising sea levels - threatening low-lying cities, islands and industries worldwide. The team focused on these high elevations so they would be able to study records of the melting's intensity of the melting dating all the way back to the 17th century. "We found a fifty percent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era, and a thirty percent increase since the 20th century alone", she said. This frozen meltwater creates distinct ice bands that pile up over years to form layers of densely packed ice. Combining results of melting found in the ice cores with satellite observations and sophisticated climate models, the researchers were able to reconstruct meltwater runoff at the lower-elevation edges of the ice sheet-the areas that contribute to sea level rise.

Study co-author Matt Osman, a graduate student, said: "We have had a sense that there's been a great deal of melting in recent decades, but we previously had no basis for comparison with melt rates going further back in time".

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

Researchers from the MIT-WHO Joint Program, University of Washington, Wheaton College, University of Leige, Desert Research Institute, and Utrecht University also worked on the study. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans' role in the changing global environment.

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