Science

Glaciers & ice caps in Greenland experiencing rapid mass loss

A concerning study reveals that glaciers and ice caps in Greenland are experiencing widespread and rapid mass loss at a rate three times faster than observed in the 20th century. This research provides crucial insights into the long-term effects of climate change on Greenland’s glaciers and ice caps, which have contributed to approximately one fifth of global sea-level rise in the past decade.

By analyzing historical data, scientists mapped 5,327 glaciers and ice caps that existed at the end of the Little Ice Age in 1900, a period of cooling when global temperatures dropped by up to 2 degrees Celsius. By 2001, these had fragmented into 5,467 separate entities. The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, shows that Greenland’s glaciers have lost a minimum of 587 cubic kilometers of ice over the last century, resulting in a sea-level rise of 1.38 millimeters.

This mass loss amounts to 499 gigatons (Gt), equivalent to a staggering rate of 4.34 Gt per year, which could fill 43,400 US aircraft carriers. The study also indicates that the rate of water melting between 2000 and 2019 was three times higher than the long-term average since 1900.

Dr. Clare Boston from the University of Portsmouth highlights that the study only considered glaciers and ice caps with an area of at least 1 square kilometer, indicating that the overall amount of ice melted would be even greater if smaller ones were included.

Understanding these changes in the context of global sea-level rise is crucial. Greenland’s glaciers and ice caps contribute significantly to meltwater runoff and currently rank as the second-largest source of meltwater after Alaska. The impact of this meltwater runoff extends beyond sea-level rise, affecting North Atlantic ocean circulation, European climate patterns, and the quality of Greenlandic fjord water and marine ecosystems.

Lead author Dr. Jonathan L. Carrivick from the University of Leeds emphasizes that these glacier changes also have direct implications for human activities such as fishing, mining, hydropower, as well as people’s health and behavior.

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