Greenland’s Rapid Ice Melt Could Jeopardize Major Cities

Surface ice melt on Greenland’s ice sheet Photo: Ian Joughin, AP

Sea level rise caused by rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland is now even more likely to adversely impact the most vulnerable coastal cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Osaka (Japan), Rio de Janeiro, and Miami, according to a news report in The Guardian.  A new study published by the National Academies of Sciences led by scientists from Ohio State found that ice loss between 2003 and 2013 was greater than previously thought because, in addition to glaciers, a greater amount of melting during that time came from ice sheets in the southwest region of the island, which is largely glacier-free and had not been as closely studied in the past.  Scientists now believe that the sheets are melting due to global temperature increases, and this causes rivers of melting ice to flow into the Atlantic Ocean, causing sea level to rise.  

  • According to CNN, a study published last month in the scientific journal Nature found that Greenland’s ice sheets contain enough water to raise global sea levels by 23 feet.
  • That study found that the ice sheets have been melting at an “unprecedented” rate, 50% higher than pre-industrial levels and 33% above 20th-century levels.
  • The new study puts a finer point on those findings — by using GPS data to show that by 2012, the rate of ice loss had accelerated to nearly four times what it was in 2003.

The study’s lead other did not sugar coat the findings.  He said, “The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming — it’s too late for there to be no effect. This is going to cause additional sea level rise. We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point.”

Why This Matters:  It’s a tri-fecta:  Antartica is melting faster than scientists believed, the oceans are warming faster too, and now we learn that Greenland (and likely the entire Arctic) is also melting more quickly as time goes on.  Some scientists objected to using the “tipping point” terminology because it implies that the world is coming to an end.  But Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview on Monday, according to The Hill, that climate change “will ‘destroy the planet’ in a dozen years if humans do not address the issue, no matter the cost.”  The rhetoric is getting as hot as the planet.  But as the polls are now showing, maybe it is finally getting the public to see climate change as the tremendous challenge that it is.  

To See It:  Check out this New York Times interactive story from 2015, and the stunning visuals that show the rivers of melting ice in Greenland.

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