Greenland’s Ice Melt on Track to Be Faster Than in Any Century Over Past 12,000 Years
What will that mean for overall global sea rise?
Scientists have concluded that the rate of ice loss of Greenland’s ice sheet within this century will likely outpace any other hundred-year period since the end of the last ice age, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
Over the last two decades, Greenland’s massive ice sheet has melted at a rate of roughly six billion tons per century, a troubling figure that is only approached by a warmer period that occurred between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago.
At current rates, the ice sheet could shed 8.8 billion tons of ice until the turn of the century. In the worst-case scenario, the ice loss could reach a staggering 36 billion tons.
“Basically, we’ve altered our planet so much that the rates of ice sheet melt this century are on pace to be greater than anything we’ve seen under natural variability of the ice sheet over the past 12,000 years,” Jason Briner, a professor of geology at the University at Buffalo and the lead author of the study, said in a news release.
“We’ll blow that out of the water if we don’t make severe reductions to greenhouse gas emissions.”
Briner and his colleagues noted that the study’s results only reiterate the need for countries around the world to take action now to reduce greenhouse emissions, which could, in the long run, slow the melting of ice sheets and mitigate sea-level rise.
In terms of overall potential to raise sea levels, Greenland is considered the planet’s second-most important ice sheet, behind only Antarctica.
According to recent data revealed by the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project, led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, if emissions continue at their current pace, the eventual melting of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets could together contribute more than fifteen inches of global sea-level rise.
The team examined two different scenarios the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has set to forecast sea-level rise between 2015 and 2100—one with carbon emissions increasing rapidly and another with lower emissions.
In the high-emissions scenario, the Greenland ice sheet has the potential to add up to 3.5 inches to global sea level by 2100. With lower emissions, it would be 1.3 inches.
Meanwhile, Antarctica’s vast ice sheets could cause sea levels to surge by up to twelve inches by the end of the century.
The project’s findings align with previous data published in last year’s landmark IPCC paper, which said Greenland would contribute 3.1 to 10.6 inches and Antarctica 1.2 to 11 inches.
Last month, it was discovered that a total of twenty-eight trillion tons of ice have disappeared from the surface of the Earth since 1994, according to U.K. scientists who analyzed satellite surveys of the planet’s poles, mountains, and glaciers.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.