Greenland ice loss faster than expected

Katie Ramirez
December 11, 2019

"These are not unlikely events or small impacts", said Andrew Shepherd, professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds, one of the lead authors of the study.

This is because Greenland is an island nation and all that ice rests on the landmass.

As ice melts it causes problems for countries all over the world.

Most of that water is frozen in masses of ice and snow that can be up to 10,000 feet thick. In fact, nearly half of the ice loss occurred between 2006 and 2012 and, although cooler atmospheric conditions - associated with a shift of the North Atlantic Oscillation - followed, the rate of ice loss has remained high since then.

The team also used regional climate models to show that half of the ice losses were due to surface melting as air temperatures have risen.

Dozens of scientists working on the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise, IMBIE, compiled data from 26 separate surveys to produce the most comprehensive picture of Greenland's ice loss to date. They documented changes in the ice sheet's volume and in the flow of melted water into the ocean between 1992 and 2018. Over the study period, the rate of ice loss was found to have increased seven-fold from 33 billion tonnes per year 1990s to 254 billion tonnes per year in the last decade.

In a paper published today in Nature, an global team of 89 polar scientists, working in collaboration with ESA and NASA, have produced the most complete picture of Greenland ice loss to date.

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The melting of Greenland's massive ice sheet is happening much faster than expected and could put millions more people at risk by the end of the century, scientists warned Tuesday.

The ominous news about Greenland comes in the wake of another worrisome finding: Antarctica's melting is also speeding up. In the last decade, that number jumped to an average of 252 billion tons per year - just a hair behind Greenland's new average. In the Arctic, meanwhile, summer melting makes it harder for scientists to anticipate what the Greenland melt rate will be in a given year. I would expect a similar increase in Greenland mass loss for 2019.

"The IMBIE Team's reconciled estimate of Greenland ice loss is timely for the IPCC".

Satellite image shows meltwater ponding on the surface of the ice sheet in northwest Greenland near the sheet's edge on Monday, July 30, 2019.

Greenland's ice sheet is melting much faster than previously thought, threatening hundreds of millions of people with inundation and bringing some of the irreversible impacts of the climate emergency much closer.

The scale and speed of ice loss is much higher than was predicted in the comprehensive studies of global climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-Comparison Exercise, a consortium of almost 100 polar scientists who reviewed all satellite observations of the ice sheet from 1992 to 2018. In all, Greenland lost 3,800 ± 339 billion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2018, causing the mean sea level to rise by 10.6 ± 0.9 millimetres.

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