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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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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