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?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin