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Greenland's ice melting four times faster than in 2003, new study suggests

'It's too late for there to be no effect'

Zamira Rahim
Tuesday 22 January 2019 01:33 GMT
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Ice in a fjord in southeastern Greenland last June. A new study shows Greenland lost around 280bn tons of ice per year between 2002 and 2016, enough to raise the worldwide sea level by 0.03 inches every year
Ice in a fjord in southeastern Greenland last June. A new study shows Greenland lost around 280bn tons of ice per year between 2002 and 2016, enough to raise the worldwide sea level by 0.03 inches every year (Reuters)

Greenland‘s ice is melting far faster than initially thought and may have reached a “tipping point”, with the rate of ice loss now four times quicker than it was in 2003, a new study suggests.

Scientists researching rises in global sea levels examined the country’s southeast and northwest regions and found that the largest amount of ice loss was sustained away from Greenland’s glaciers.

“Whatever this was, it couldn’t be explained by glaciers, because there aren’t many there,” said Michael Bevis, the study’s lead author.

“It had to be the surface mass – the ice was melting inland from the coastline. It’s because the atmosphere is, at its baseline, warmer,” Mr Bevis added.

“What’s happening is sea surface temperature in the tropics is going up; shallow water gets warmer and the air gets warmer.”

The team’s study suggests that an increasing amount of water will flow from Greenland into the ocean during the summer months, further contributing to the rising sea levels.

“We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers,” said Mr Bevis.

“But now we recognise a second serious problem: increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea.”

He added that the research could have “serious implications” for coastal US cities, including New York and Miami.

The team’s findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that southwest Greenland could become a major contributor to future sea level rises.

Scientists used data from Nasa and Germany’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) and from GPS stations around Greenland’s coast to measure the changes in ice mass.

Before the new study, researchers understood Greenland to be one of the Earth’s major contributors to sea level rise – mostly because of its glaciers.

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But Mr Bevis said the new findings show that scientists need to be watching the island’s snowpack and ice fields closely.

“The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming – it’s too late for there to be no effect,” Mr Bevis said.

“This is going to cause additional sea level rise. We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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