The same heat dome that roasted Europe and broke national temperature records in five countries last week has shifted to Greenland, where it is causing one of the biggest melt events ever observed on the fragile ice sheet.
By some measures, the ice melt is more extreme than during a benchmark record event in July 2012, according to scientists analyzing the latest data. During that event, about 98 percent of the ice sheet experienced some surface melting, speeding up the process of shedding ice into the ocean.
The fate of Greenland’s ice sheet is of critical importance to every coastal resident in the world, since Greenland is already the biggest contributor to modern-day sea level rise. The pace and extent of Greenland ice melt will help determine how high sea levels climb and how quickly.
As a result of both surface melting and a lack of snow on the ice sheet this summer, “this is the year Greenland is contributing most to sea level rise,” said Marco Tedesco, a climate scientist at Columbia University.
To illustrate the magnitude of ice contained in Greenland, consider that if the entire ice sheet were to melt, it would raise sea levels by 23 feet. Scientists are using aircraft, field research, satellites and other tools to improve their understanding of how quickly ice is being lost.
Jason Box, a climate scientist who studies Greenland’s ice sheet, examined recent field data from two locations on the ice sheet, both of which showed more ice loss so far during this event than in 2012.
- At one location, 75 miles east of Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, the equivalent of 8.33 feet of water (2.54 meters) had melted as of July 31, slightly exceeding the value of 8.27 feet (2.52 meters) from 2012.
- At another location 497 miles to the north, the equivalent of 7.38 feet (2.25 meters) of water had melted, topping the record of 6.30 feet (1.92 meters) in 2012. In an email, Box said the 2019 melt at this location is twice the average over the last decade.
The Danish Meteorological Institute tweeted that more than half the ice sheet experienced some degree of melting on Tuesday, according to a computer model simulation, which made it the “highest this year by some distance.”
Xavier Fettweis, a climate scientist at University of Liège, tweeted that a computer simulation suggests the rate of melting will reach a maximum Thursday, which “could be the highest in Greenland history from 1950.”