Greenland Ice Sheet Past The Point of No Return – Climate Crisis Continues to Roil the Planet

Even if we stop emitting greenhouse gasses, it is too late to reverse the damage done — the Greenland ice sheet is beyond saving, according to a new study published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment last Thursday, based on a review of more than 30 years of satellite data.  “We’ve passed the point of no return but there’s obviously more to come,” author Ian Howat of Ohio State University told CNN. “Rather than being a single tipping point in which we’ve gone from a happy ice sheet to a rapidly collapsing ice sheet, it’s more of a staircase where we’ve fallen off the first step but there’s many more steps to go down into the pit.”

Why This Matters:  The perfect metaphor for the climate crisis.  We have fallen off the first step and we can’t stop, but we don’t know how bad it will feel as we keep falling, and falling, and falling. The bottom line is that Florida and other coastal areas are going to be under water and there is no stopping that — we must adapt.  The three feet of sea-level rise predicted will cause major damage and disruption to the 40% of Americans who live in areas that are vulnerable.

Greenland’s Ice Going, Going

Studying four decades of satellite data, the study’s authors were able to make some rather stunning conclusions, as reported by CNN.  For example:

  • Greenland’s ice sheet is “retreating in rapid bursts, leading to a sudden and unpredictable rise in sea levels, making it difficult to prepare for the effects.”
  • After 2000, “the ice sheet shrank so rapidly that replenishing snowfall would not keep up with the rate of melting from parts of the glacier newly exposed to warmer ocean water.”
  • All 200 glaciers that make up the Greenland ice sheet have been observed retreating.”
  • “Even though the retreat of the Greenland Ice sheet likely cannot be reversed, it’s just the first in a series of tipping points” and on this same trajectory “the rate of melting will get much worse.”

Greenland icemelt is the largest contributor to global sea-level rise — as Ecowatch put it, what happens in Greenland does not stay in Greenland.  National Geographic has a new documentary premiering next month that looks ahead to what will be the “Last Ice” areas in the Arctic.

Meanwhile, In Alaska, It’s Thawing Out

Conoco-Phillips is has received approval from the Trump Administration to expand its current drilling operations on the North Slope (not to be confused with the drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge related story).  In addition, the Department of Interior approved the oil giant’s plan to use “chillers” called thermosyphons to prevent the ground from thawing underneath key infrastructure, according to the agency’s environmental impact statement, which they published last Friday.  Climate change is causing the permafrost to melt and that makes the drilling operations less stable — the ground is literally thawing away the foundation under them.  This begs the question of whether the operation is safe, and whether there are risks to the environment from the infrastructure required for drilling now that climate change is melting the permafrost.  No problem — according to the Agency, it’s all A-OK even though the infrastructure could also exacerbate the thawing of the ground, according to Business Insider, based on a Bloomberg News report.

To Go Deeper: National Geographic has a new documentary premiering this fall that looks ahead to what will be “The Last Ice” areas in the Arctic.  Watch the trailer.

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