Extreme Weather Events Boosting Ice Melt in Greenland

Posted: November 20, 2021 2:29 am

A new study out of the University of Leeds is demonstrating that global warming is causing a substantial increase in ice melt events in Greenland. The increasing frequency of the ice melt over the last 40 years is, in turn, boosting sea levels and the risk of flooding on a global scale.

What the Study Found

The study found that over 3.5 trillion tons of ice have melted on the surface of Greenland and flowed into the ocean over the last 10 years. This amount of water is equal to covering the entire surface of the United Kingdom (UK) with about 15 meters of melted water. Put into another perspective, this amount of meltwater would cover all of New York City approximately 4,500 meters deep.

The researchers at the university used data from satellite pictures to measure the ice sheet runoff. The results were recently published in Nature Communications. The study was funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) in conjunction with the Polar+ Surface Mass Balance Feasibility project. The satellite data was provided by the ESA’s CryoSat-2 mission.

Diving Into the Results

The results reveal that the meltwater on this island has increased by 21% over the last 40 years. In addition, the runoff is defined as being 60% more erratic when measured between summers. This inconsistency is a red flag when it comes to the effects of meltwater on global warming.

Examining data from the last decade spanning 2011 to 2020, the study detailed that the boost in meltwater runoff from Greenland led to an increase in the global sea level by one centimeter. Approximately one-third of this total runoff was the result of just two particularly hot summers in the years 2012 and 2019. The extreme heat felt around the globe during these two summers undoubtedly contributed to the record-breaking ice melt.

The data over the last decade also demonstrates that the ice melt runoff in Greenland has averaged about 357 billion tons per year with the maximum number hitting 527 billion tons in 2012. This record-high year was the result of a change in the atmospheric patterns above the island causing warm air to hover over the ice sheet. This runoff statistic was more than twice the low figure of 247 billion tons recorded in 2017.

Why This Research is Important

There are a number of reasons why this proof of increased ice melt is raising alarm bells. The increase in sea levels because of the ice melt exacerbates the threat of flooding along coastal areas. This increase in ice melt also disturbs fragile marine ecosystems. Lastly, the rise in sea levels has the potential of changing the patterns of atmospheric and ocean circulation, in turn affecting weather patterns all over the globe.

Why the Rapid Ice Melt?

Forecasters and weather experts are certain that the increase in ice melt is related to extreme weather events. Most notably, heatwaves have become more frequent over the last decade, leading to an increasing amount of ice loss in Greenland.

The promising news is that there is still time to mitigate this ice melt. A researcher in the study said that there are reasons to be optimistic that being purposeful about cutting emissions could go a long way in reducing ice melt in the coming years.

These new observations from space can also help scientists to predict with greater accuracy how the global sea level will increase in the future due to the ice melt in Greenland.