Several days of unusually hot weather in northern Greenland – with temperatures of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees higher than normal for this time of year) – have caused rapid ice melting, made clearly visible by the rivers of meltwater flowing into the ocean. The scientists estimate that, between July 15 and 17, six billion tons of water per day have melted in Greenland – enough to fill 7.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, or to cover the entire state of West Virginia with a foot of water.
“The northern melt this past week is not normal, looking at 30 to 40 years of climate averages,” said Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder. “But melting has been on the increase, and this event was a spike in melt.”
Scientists worry that soon the record ice melting of 2019 – when 532 billion tons of ice flowed out into the sea, causing a permanent global sea level rise of 1.5 millimeters – will be surpassed and cause even more damage around the world. Researchers estimate that Greenland holds enough ice to lift sea level by 7.5 meters around the globe if melted completely.
Earlier this year, unprecedented rates of melting have been observed at the bottom of the Greenland ice sheet, caused by the enormous quantities of meltwater trickling down from the surface. This phenomenon is highly concerning since it can destabilize the surface ice sheet and lead to a massive, rapid loss of ice.
According to scientists from Ohio State University, Greenland’s ice sheet has unfortunately melted beyond the point of no return and no efforts to stave off global warming could stop it from eventually disintegrating. The rate of melting that Greenland has witnessed in the past few years has exceeded anything it had experienced in the last 12,000 years, and has led to measurable changes in the gravitational field over the island.
However, even if Greenland’s ice will eventually vanish, how fast this happens and with what consequences remains in humanity’s hands. Measures to mitigate climate change are urgently needed to slow down sea ice melting and thus protect myriads of vulnerable ecosystems.