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