Published: Fri, December 07, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

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 melting is not just increasing - it's accelerating.

Greenland's ice sheet is now melting at a rate that is "off the charts" compared with the last 350 years, a new study by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has warned.

They added that Greenland's dramatic melting was directly linked to the greenhouse gases belched into Earth's atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Published today in Nature, the research finds that rates of melting at Greenland's surface have skyrocketed in recent decades and are now far out of bounds of what was considered natural variability over the last few centuries.

"Rather than increasing steadily as climate warms, Greenland will melt increasingly more and more for every degree of warming, Trusel said".

'The melting and sea-level rise we've observed will be dwarfed by what may be expected in the future'. Iceberg calving into the ocean from the edges of the glaciers is of course, one part of how fresh water re-enters the ocean, however, over "half of the ice sheet water entering the ocean comes from runoff from melted snow and glacial ice atop the ice sheet".

From these numbers, the researchers estimated that ice sheet-wide levels of meltwater runoff have jumped 50 per cent in the past 20 years compared with pre-industrial times. This gave a record of past melt intensity going back to the 17th century.

They found that the surface of Greenland's ice sheet melts on summer days.

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The melting of Greenland's ice sheet is one of the main culprits behind the rising sea levels around the globe. At higher elevations, however, the summer meltwater quickly refreezes from contact with the below-freezing snowpack sitting underneath.

Trusel's team of global researchers analyzed ice cores extracted from Greenland, a massive island wedged between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Instead, it forms distinct icy bands that stack up in layers of densely packed ice over time. The equipment was used to pore through the centuries-old ice layers. Dark bands running horizontally across the cores record the strength of the melting for a given year.

The research says the melting could contribute to rising sea levels - threatening low-lying cities, islands and industries worldwide.

She said: "From a historical perspective, today's melt rates are off the charts, and this study provides the evidence to prove this".

"We found a fifty percent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era and a 30 percent increase since the 20th century alone".

Satellite methods to understand melting rates have only been around in recent decades, so the ability to go back further in time was important.

Osman said understanding how Greenland has already responded to climate change will allow scientists to answer what might happen there next. The team found that not only did their method show the thickness of the annual melt layer but also how much melting occurs at certain coring sites and across the whole of Greenland. They then linked this historical data to modern observations of melting and runoff across the entire ice sheet, creating a timeline dating back to 1650.

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