Greenland Is Disappearing Quickly, and Scientists Have Found a New Reason Why

Greenland Is Disappearing Quickly, and Scientists Have Found a New Reason Why


Meltwater from Greenland churns the ocean, speeding the loss of glaciers like stirring ice cubes in a glass of water

Jagged blue ice face of Eqip Glacier along Disko Bay on summer afternoon, Ilulissat, Greenland. Credit: Paul Souders/Getty Images

Scientists believe that the Greenland Ice Sheet may be more sensitive to warming than previously thought.

A new study finds that rising air temperatures are working with warm ocean waters to speed the melting of Greenland’s seaside glaciers.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shed new light on the forces driving ice loss on the world’s second largest ice sheet.

The Greenland ice sheet is losing an average of around 250 billion metric tons of ice per year. Studies have shown that these losses are increasing in speed over time. There are two main causes.

Melting occurs on the surface of the Ice Sheet when warm air temperatures are high. This process accounts for approximately half the ice Greenland loses each and every year. The rest comes from the seafloor melting of glaciers at the edge of the ice sheet.

Losses at these seaside glaciers can be mainly attributed, up until now, to warm ocean waters licking the ice’s edge. New research shows that rising air temperatures are also a major factor.

Warming air causes the ice sheet’s surface to melt and then the meltwater runs into the ocean. It causes the water to churn, and that turbulence helps heat rise from the ocean’s depths and warm the waters that come into contact with the glaciers. This causes the glaciers to melt faster.

Lead author Donald Slater is a scientist at University of Edinburgh. He likened it to ice cubes in water. They melt more quickly when the water is hotter. They also melt faster if the water is stirred.

Rising air temperatures in Greenland “effectively cause a stirring of ocean close to ice sheet, which causes faster melting of the sea ice sheet by ocean,” he stated in a statement.

The researchers used a combination observation and models to examine the melt rates at the oceanfront glaciers of Greenland and then to determine the roles of the ocean and the atmosphere.

They found that the glaciers in South Greenland are melting at a faster rate than other areas. This was not surprising, as these glaciers are located closest to the warm Atlantic Ocean. The models in these areas suggest that warm waters play the predominant role in melting the ice.

Glaciers are located in the northern regions of the ice sheets and are therefore exposed to colder waters, and tend to melt slower. These areas are still influenced by the ocean, but air temperatures play a larger role.

The study concludes that Greenland’s glaciers are rapidly melting because of rising air temperatures. Research shows that if the atmosphere hadn’t warmed in the past few decades, Greenland’s retreat from glaciers would have been reduced by as high as a third. It could have been as low as half in northwestern Greenland.

” This unfortunately adds to the overwhelming body evidence showing the Greenland Ice Sheet’s sensitivity to climate change. Therefore, it is imperative to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emission,” Slater stated.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential new

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