Greenland is considered by many to be one of the major keys to climate change. Changes in Greenland, like much of the Arctic, are an indication of the extent of climate change year to year. Greenland is also a major contributor to global sea rises and would contribute at least twenty-three feet to overall levels if the island were to melt entirely.
According to researchers, both 2010 and 2011 have seen massive melting from Greenland’s glaciers. Researchers in 2010 found the melt was a record and in 2011 the record was set once more. The air temperatures surrounding the ice sheets of Greenland have risen at least four degrees Fahrenheit in twenty years. The western glacier of Jakobshavn is said to be the greatest contributor to rising seas in the Northern Hemisphere, a glacier which is moving toward the ocean at 100 feet per day. This is double the speed at which it moved less than twenty years prior.
In the book entitled “The Fate of Greenland,” which was partially written by glaciologist Richard Alley, the authors state: “Our lack of fundamental understanding of ice-sheet behavior leaves open the possibility that we could be greatly underestimating the rate of response to warming, with potential major implications. […] The fate of Greenland lie clues to the fate of the world.”
Many hope that the previous quote is hyperbolic but recent accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet has scientists alarmed about the changes. Overall the Arctic has had below average sea ice extent throughout the summer, which is a trend of recent years. The melt that begins each year in the region, regardless of the influence of climate change, began quite early this year, another trend that is to become problematic for the region and potentially globe.
But what shocked scientists recently was a drastic speed-up in melting on the 683,000 square miles of Greenland’s ice sheet. As of July 8th, forty percent of the ice sheet was thawing. However, only four days later scientists noted that the figure had jumped to ninety-seven percent. The first thought for scientists tracking the thaw was that it was computer error, however, it has been determined to be legitimate thawing covering nearly the entirety of the ice sheet. On average, figures for the month of July see melting covering only twenty-five percent of the ice sheet.
After the shocking and significant melting of Greenland in the middle of the month, the ice sheet stabilized somewhat and experienced freezing over large portions. However, within days another major melt event struck the ice sheet, further concerning scientists. The second event occurred during the last week of July and resulted in melting occurring across seventy-four percent of the ice sheet.
Melting in the region also began earlier than usual, compounding the issue of the melting across the ice sheet. When figures are compiled at the end of the summer to indicate overall ice mass loss, scientists believe it will be much higher than average- perhaps even higher than recent years. If events such as the two in July across Greenland continue to occur, it may alter climate model projections for the area’s future.
Scientists have indicated that major thaws such at this have occurred in the past and can occur approximately in 150-year increments. However, it is unknown whether this is one of those events. Even if this is tied to a 150-year event, the scientists fear that thaws such as this one will become commonplace. The significant melting which is ongoing in Greenland is causing local issues, such as water damage, but it is too early to indicate whether the thaw will make a significant contribution to globe sea level rise.