The Greenland ice sheet that melted last weekend can cover West Virginia in a foot of water

The Greenland ice sheet that melted last weekend can cover West Virginia in a foot of water

Several days of unusually hot weather in North Greenland have triggered rapid melting, made visible by the rivers with meltwater flowing into the sea. Temperatures have been around 60 degrees Fahrenheit – 10 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year, researchers told CNN.

The amount of ice that melted in Greenland between July 15 and 17 alone – 6 billion tons of water per day – will be enough to fill 7.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Put another way, it was enough to cover the entire state of West Virginia with one foot of water.

“Northern melting over the past week is not normal, given the 30 to 40 years of climate averages,” said Ted Scambos, a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “But the melting has been increasing, and this event was a peak in the melting.”

For the researchers out on the ice sheet, the heat has been alarming.

“It definitely worries me,” said Kutalmis Saylam, a researcher at the University of Texas who is currently stationed in Greenland. “Yesterday we were able to walk around in our t-shirts – that was not really expected.”

Every summer, researchers worry that they will see a repeat of the record melting that took place in 2019, when 532 billion tonnes of ice flowed into the sea. An unexpectedly hot spring and a heat wave in July that year caused almost the entire surface of the ice sheet to melt. Global sea level rose permanently by 1.5 millimeters as a result.
Greenland has enough ice – if all melted – to raise sea levels by 7.5 meters around the world.
A lone seal is sunbathing on the sea ice off the northwest coast of Greenland.
The sea ice is formed when pieces of the Greenland ice sheet break off and flow into the sea.

Recent research points to an increasingly precarious situation on the northern hemisphere’s most icy island.

“Unique” melting rates have been observed at the bottom of the Greenland ice sheet, a study published in February found, caused by huge amounts of meltwater trickling down from the surface. This water is of particular concern because it can destabilize the sheet over it and can lead to a massive, rapid loss of ice.
And in 2020, the researchers found that Greenland’s ice sheet had melted beyond that and there was no going back. No attempt to avert global warming could stop it from disintegrating in the end, said researchers at Ohio State University. The melting rate in recent years exceeds everything Greenland has experienced in the last 12,000, another study found – and enough to cause measurable changes in the gravitational field over Greenland.
A seal on the sea ice.

At the East Greenland Ice-core Project – or EastGRIP – research camp in Northwest Greenland, the work of researchers to understand the impact of climate change is hindered by climate change itself.

Aslak Grinsted, a climate researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, told CNN that they have tried to fly into the camp so that they can send out the ice cores they have recently collected. But the heat destabilizes the landing site.

– The temperatures we are seeing right now are simply too hot for the ski-equipped planes to land, Grinsted said. “So we store the ice cores in large artificial caves we have made for the snow to protect it from the summer heat.”

Scientists take advantage of the abnormal heat while they wait, and play volleyball in their shorts on an ice sheet at the top of the world.

Before man-made climate change began, temperatures close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit were unheard of. But since the 1980s, this region has warmed by around 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit per decade – four times faster than the global pace – making it all the more likely that temperatures will cross the melting threshold.

Grinsted described the temperatures at the EastGRIP research site as a “heat wave”, noting that global warming is pushing mercury higher more often.

“Yes, the chance of temperatures getting so hot is clearly linked to global warming,” Grinsted said.

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