New Study Shows Just How Frighteningly Fast Greenland Is Melting

Dark meltwater on Greenland's surface

Melting ice in Greenland, home to the second largest mass of ice after Antarctica, is thought to add 0.8 millimetres of water to global ocean levels annually, more than any other region, according to NASA.

Glaciologist and climate scientist Luke Trusel of Rowan University, led a team of US and European researchers who analyzed more than three centuries of melt patterns in ice cores from western Greenland.

In July 2012 a series of warm weather engendered nearly the whole surface of the Greenland ice sheet to commence melting a phenomenon with no pattern in the satellite record.

The study also found that Greenland's ice loss is driven primarily by warmer summer air and that even small rises in temperature can trigger exponential increases in the ice's melt rate. "The melting and sea level rise we've observed already will be dwarfed by what may be expected in the future as climate continues to warm", Trusel said.

'We found a 50 per cent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff since the start of the industrial era, and a 30 per cent increase since the 20th century alone'.

"Greenland ice is melting more in recent decades than at any point in at least the last four centuries, and probably more than at any time in the last seven to eight millennia", said the lead author Luke Trusel, of Rowan University, to The Guardian. The scientists drilled at these elevations to ensure the cores would contain records of past melt intensity, allowing them to extend their records back into the 17 century.

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The report comes after naturalist Sir David Attenborough warned the collapse of civilisations and extinction of much of the natural world "is on the horizon" without urgent action to tackle climate change.

At today's higher Arctic temperatures, each degree of warming causes about double the amount of melting that the same degree would have caused in the 1800s, Das said. Instead of escaping the ice sheet, the short-lived meltwater forms icy bands that stack up layers of densely packed ice over time. Mwltwater from the ice sheet runs off into the ocean, contributing to sea level rise. Another noteworthy aspect of the findings is how little additional warming it now takes to cause huge spikes in ice sheet melting.

"We have had a sense that there's been a great deal of melting in recent decades, but we previously had no basis for comparison with melt rates going further back in time", Matt Osman, co-author of the new study, said in a statement.

"The melting is not just increasing - it's accelerating", Trusel told Nature. They then linked this historical data to modern observations of melting and runoff across the entire ice sheet, creating a timeline dating back to 1650.

"To be able to answer what might happen to Greenland next, we need to understand how Greenland has already responded to climate change", he said. The team found that not only did their method show the thickness of the annual melt layer but also how much melting occurs at certain coring sites and across the whole of Greenland. Researchers drilled at such high elevations for good reason.

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