This place is where the planet’s warmer and watery future is being written. It is so warm here, just inside the Arctic Circle, that on an August day, coats are left on the ground and scientists work on the watery melting ice without gloves. In one of the closest towns, Kulusuk, the morning temperature reached a shirtsleeve 52 degrees Fahrenheit (10.7 degrees Celsius).
The ice is thousands of years old. It will be gone within a year or two, adding yet more water to rising seas worldwide. Summer this year is hitting Greenland hard with record-shattering heat and extreme melt. By the end of the summer, about 440 billion tons (400 billion metric tons) of ice — maybe more — will have melted or calved off Greenland’s giant ice sheet. That’s enough water to flood Pennsylvania or the country of Greece about a foot (35 centimeters) deep.
In just the five days from July 31 to Aug. 3, more than 58 billion tons (53 billion metric tons) melted from the surface. That’s over 40 billion tons more than the average for this time of year. And that 58 billion tons doesn’t even count the huge calving events or the warm water eating away at the glaciers from below, which may be a huge factor.
Helheim, one of Greenland’s fastest-retreating glaciers, has shrunk about 6 miles (10 kilometers) since scientists came here in 2005.
Scientists believe what’s happening is a combination of man-made climate change and natural but weird weather patterns. Glaciers here do shrink in the summer and grow in the winter, but nothing like this year. Summit Station, a research camp nearly 2 miles high (3,200 meters) and far north, warmed to above freezing twice this year for a record total of 16.5 hours. Before this year, that station was above zero for only 6.5 hours in 2012, once in 1889 and also in the Middle Ages.
If you look at climate model projections, we can expect to see larger areas of the ice sheet experiencing melt for longer durations of the year and greater mass loss going forward. There’s every reason to believe that years that look like this will become more common.
Greenland’s ice sheet lost about 255 billion metric tons of ice a year between 2003 and 2016, with the loss rate generally getting worse over that period. Nearly all of the 28 Greenland glaciers are retreating, especially Helheim.
At Helheim, those ice cliffs are somewhere between 225 feet (70 meters) and 328 feet (100 meters) high. Just next to them are Helheim’s remnants — sea ice, snow and icebergs — forming a mostly white expanse, with a mishmash of shapes and textures. Frequently water pools amid that white, glimmering a near-fluorescent blue.
Scientists are installing radar and GPS to track the ice movement and help explain why salty, warm, once-tropical water attacking the glacier’s “underbelly” has been bubbling to the surface. It takes thousands and thousands of years to grow an ice sheet, but they can be broken up or destroyed quite rapidly. Some scientists believe that by the year 2100, Greenland alone could cause 3 or 4 feet (more than 1 meter) of sea level rise.
The winter that used to last as much as 10 months 40 years ago can now be as short as five months. Even sled dog team for tourists at a hotel in neighboring Tasiilaq, can no longer operate.
The bigger picture is not good. Not for Greenland. Not for Earth as a whole.
This joke is for Mick Garbutt, one of the world’s great music PR guys…
The rise in Global Warming means that in a few years time the whole of Belgium could be under water. But on the bright side that would leave an extra Champions League place open for Arsenal. Every cloud…