The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an exponentially faster rate than scientists previously estimated, prompting urgent calls for climate action to avoid catastrophic sea level rise.
Accelerating Ice Sheet Collapse
As the Arctic warms more than twice as fast as the global average, the frozen landscapes of Greenland are thawing rapidly. An international team of glaciologists have combined decades of observations and revealed that the Greenland ice sheet has lost 20% more mass since 1985 than earlier estimates.
The comprehensive analysis published in Nature this week is the most definitive measure of ice loss from Greenland to date. It incorporates 26 separate satellite assessments along with on-the-ground measurements and shows that in the four decades leading up to 2022, the ice sheet lost a staggering 5,670 gigatons (Gt) of ice.
|Cumulative Ice Mass Loss (Gt)
To put that in perspective, that is enough melted ice to cover the entire United States in around 10 feet of water.
Co-author Dr. Xavier Fettweis said “It is clearer than ever that Greenland is losing ice very quickly from all glaciers and this trend has been accelerating since the 1980s.” He warned that models are still underestimating future melting and if warming continues major sea level rise will be locked in this century.
Catastrophic Melt Rates
In more bad news, satellite data in 2022 showed a record loss of 1930 square miles of ice area across Greenland. That is around three times the entire area of Greater London disappearing in a single year.
2023 saw no relief, with surface melting occurring for the first month ever in January over parts of the ice sheet. Climate scientist Dr Zachary Labe said “January melt seasons will become more common in a warming world.” Melting has begun unusually early again this year, prompting warnings we may be “witnessing the downfall of the Greenland ice sheet.”
Maps from NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) mission starkly visualize the rapid glacier retreat over the past 15 years:
Jakobshavn Glacier. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Zachariae Glacier. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Experts say we have likely already passed a tipping point where the complete disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet is inevitable. The questions remaining are how much and how fast it will add to rising seas.
Sea Level Threats Accelerating
Already global sea levels have risen over 8 inches since reliable records began in 1880, with around 40% of that increase coming in just the last decade. Seas are now rising at more than double the 20th century average rate.
The sobering totals from the Greenland ice sheet spell further sea level rise dangers according to Dr. Mark Fahnestock, Director of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“Considering the current trajectory we could expect to see at least another foot of sea level rise locked in already from Greenland’s ice loss to date. And that does not account for ever increasing melt rates that we expect to see in coming years” he said.
Low lying islands and coastal communities are already struggling with increased flooding from rising seas and storms. Research shows that if rapid ice sheet melting in Greenland and Antarctica continues, it could lead to catastrophic breakdown of ocean circulation patterns within this century.
The Gulf Stream is essential to regulating Northern Hemisphere climate, and any significant disruption risks plunging Europe and North America into chaos. Dr. Fahnestock warns “the stability of our modern world depends on the stability of polar ice sheets which currently looks very unstable.”
Urgent Climate Action Demanded
Climate scientists around the globe are demanding immediate and aggressive emissions cuts in response to the chilling findings from Greenland. Current commitments still put the world on track for around 2.5°C of warming by 2100. However at present melting rates, just 1.5°C could bring meters of sea level rise within this century alone.
Professor Jason Box from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland pulled no punches in responding to the latest analysis:
“These findings are deeply disturbing. The extreme melt rates speak of an ice sheet highly vulnerable to human-caused climate change. This study represents a dire warning from nature that immense and irreversible impacts are now inevitable without urgent climate action on a coordinated global scale.”
The coming years look set to show whether humanity has the collective wisdom to change course, or will continue blindly down a path towards unprecedented climate catastrophe. The melting ice sheets are sounding an alarm, it remains to be seen whether we heed their warning.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.