Even if the Climate Cools, There is no Turning Back for Greenland’s Glaciers

Climate Scientists warn that the shrinking of Greenland’s glaciers crucial ‘Ice Sheet’ has passed the point of no return. 

By David Icke Turner

Photo by Dirk Spijkers

The journal Communications Earth and Environment has released a report analyzing 40 years of satellite data from Greenland. The data suggests that the island’s glaciers have diminished to the extent that even a return to normal temperatures could not stop the thick ice from dwindling. 

The recently published report warns that Greenland’s glaciers have reached a dangerous benchmark where there will not be adequate snowfall to reinforce the glacier’s critical ice sheet. This ice sheet mitigates waters melting into nearby bodies of water. 

“We’ve been looking at these remote sensing observations to study how ice discharge and accumulation have varied,” warned Michalea King. King is the primary author of the research done by The Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. “And what we’ve found is that the ice that’s discharging into the ocean is far surpassing the snow that’s accumulating on the surface of the ice sheet.”

The report analyzed regular satellite data from 200+ glaciers dispersing melted water into the ocean around Greenland. The study examines the volume of ice breaking off of glaciers and melting into the ocean. This volume of melted ice was compared and contrasted with average snowfall every year. 

“We are measuring the pulse of the ice sheet—how much ice glaciers drain at the edges of the ice sheet—which increases in the summer. And what we see is that it was relatively steady until a big increase in ice discharging to the ocean during a short five- to six-year period,” King said.

“Glaciers have been sensitive to seasonal melt for as long as we’ve been able to observe it, with spikes in ice discharge in the summer,” she added. “But starting in 2000, you start superimposing that seasonal melt on a higher baseline—so you’re going to get even more losses.”

“Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss,” said Ian Howat, a co-author on the paper, professor of earth sciences and distinguished university scholar at Ohio State. “Even if the climate were to stay the same or even get a little colder, the ice sheet would still be losing mass.”

Shrinking glaciers cause detrimental climate effects throughout the globe. The melted ice increases volume in all of the world’s oceans hence adding to sea level rise, water temperature, and subsequent changes in climate. 

Though King makes it clear there is an upside to these observations:

“It’s always a positive thing to learn more about glacier environments, because we can only improve our predictions for how rapidly things will change in the future,” she said. “And that can only help us with adaptation and mitigation strategies. The more we know, the better we can prepare.”


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