Fears of faster rising global sea levels as 'stable' Greenland ice sheet starts to melt

New study shows north-eastern region has been losing billions of tons of ice since 2003

A A A

Global sea levels may rise faster than anticipated due to a rapid melting of the north-east corner of the Greenland ice sheet, according to scientists. This was widely considered to be cold and stable.

Satellite measurements have shown that this part of Greenland, which covers 16 per cent of the ice sheet, has now begun to melt after many years of stability – the reason why this area was left out of computer models predicting future global sea-level rise.

Regional warming in north-east Greenland in 2003 triggered the start of the melting seen over this area of the ice sheet, the study found. Since then, it has lost about 10 billion tonnes of ice a year to the sea. The findings have surprised the researchers, who said there is now concern that Greenland may become more important than anticipated in determining how fast sea levels rise this century.

The ice sheet is already one of the main contributors to rising sea levels over the past 20 years, accounting for an increase in the average levels of 0.5mm per year, out of a total increase of 3.2mm per year. “The Greenland ice sheet has contributed more than any other ice mass to sea-level rise over the past two decades and has the potential, if completely melted, to raise global sea level by more than seven metres,” said Professor Jeremy Bamber of Bristol University, a co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“About half of the increased contribution of the ice sheet is due to the speed-up of glaciers in the south and north-west.  Until recently, north-east Greenland has been relatively stable.  This new study shows that is no longer the case.”

He added: “Most projections of the future behaviour of the ice sheet have no, or little, contribution from this part of Greenland, but these new results suggest that this region is sensitive to changes in climate and has the potential to contribute significantly now and in the future.”

The north-east segment has one of the longest ice streams – rivers of ice – draining a huge area of the ice sheet. Satellite recordings show that the Zachariae ice stream has retreated from the coast by about 20km in the past decade. This compares with a 35km retreat over 150 years for one of the fastest-moving glaciers, the Jakobshavn ice stream in the warmer region of south-west Greenland, the scientists said.

“North-east Greenland is very cold. It used to be considered the last stable part of the Greenland ice sheet. This study shows that ice loss in the north-east is now accelerating,” said Michael Bevis of Ohio State University, a co-author of the study.

“So, now it seems that all the margins of the Greenland ice sheet are unstable ... The fact that this ice loss is associated with a major ice stream that channels ice from deep in the interior of the ice sheet does add additional concern about what might happen.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
A referee issues a red card
football
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Back End Web Developer

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£36500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenan...

The Jenrick Group: Multi Skilled Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Multi Skill...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'