Published: Fri, January 25, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

New Data On Greenland's Melting Ice Spells Trouble for Coastal Cities


In the new study, researchers found that the ice sheet of the island, is melting faster due to accelerated warming in the atmosphere, with most of the loss of ice falls on the South-West of Greenland, where there are no large glaciers on the South-East and North-West of the island, which carried a lot of ice into the ocean, forming icebergs. Even more, global warming is now causing the so-called "safe" ice sheets across both Greenland and Antarctica to melt.

The Bevis led study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed Global Positioning System data from Greenland's coast to more precisely understand previous research from a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

This suggests that surface ice is simply melting as global temperatures rise, causing gushing rivers of meltwater to flow into the ocean and push up sea levels.

Before the new study, scientists understood Greenland to be one of the Earth's major contributors to sea-level rise - mostly because of its glaciers. The chunks float away, eventually melting.

Michael Bevis, a professor at Ohio State University and lead author of the PNAS paper, said the ice now appeared to be melting from the surface mass, "melting inland from the coastline".

"We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers", he said.

Should the entire west Antarctic ice sheet collapse, sea levels would balloon by around 3.5 metres, albeit over a lengthy time frame.

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Greenland's ice is melting four times faster than just 15 years ago and major coastal cities such as London and NY could be swamped. Those researchers said the data shows that Greenland's ice could be nearing a new tipping point where slight changes in temperatures can result in massive losses of ice, leading to coastal flooding around the world. These ice sheets have been melting at an "unprecedented" rate, 50 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels and 33 per cent above 20th-century levels.

The findings could have serious implications for coastal US cities, including NY and Miami, as well as island nations that are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

"The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming", he said.

From 2003 to 2013, the NAO veered more and more negative, a trend the researchers found mapped closely to a speed-up in the amount of meltwater flowing off southwest Greenland. Its ice loss averaged 252 billion tons a year over the past decade. If the ice on the world's largest island is melting more quickly than previous realized, that spells trouble. "The transient warming driven by the North Atlantic Oscillation was riding on top of more sustained, global warming". It's because the atmosphere is, at its baseline, warmer.

Bevis and his team hypothesize that Greenland's melting is accelerating so much because the effects of a natural atmospheric circulation cycle, called the North Atlantic Oscillation, are being amplified by the broader warming that the planet is facing.

"The continent of Antarctica has been losing about 118 gigatons of ice per year since 2002, while the Greenland ice sheet has been losing an estimated 281 gigatons per year". It meant sea levels rose by about 0.03 inches annually.

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