Greenland’s melting ice passes “point of no return”
Satellite data on 234 glaciers across the Arctic over 34 years has shown glaciers have shrunk to such an extent that even if climate change came to a stop today, the ice sheet would continue melting into the oceans.
Between 2000 and 2005, the glaciers retreated so much as a result of atmospheric warming due to activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, that they have spiralled into “a new dynamic state of sustained mass loss,” or a “point of no return.” This is according to the researchers of a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment.
This means that Greenland’s glaciers have effectively passed a tipping point, where the snowfall that replenishes the ice sheet each year cannot keep up with the ice that is flowing into the ocean from glaciers. The report’s author Michalea D. King said “The sobering findings should spur governments to prepare for sea-level rise.”
If all of Greenland’s ice goes, it will be catastrophic for wildlife in the region, which is already suffering. It will also mean the water released would raise sea levels by up to 7 meters, enough, over many decades, to eventually submerge many coastal cities around the world. The melting that is occurring today is already causing global seas to rise about a millimetre on average per year.
“Greenland is going to be the canary in the coal mine, and the canary is already pretty much dead at this point,” said glaciologist and co-author Ian Howat at Ohio State University.
During the 1980s and 90s, the size of the ice sheet was maintained by a balance of snowfall and ice melting or calving from glaciers. Throughout this two decade period, researchers found that the ice sheets lost on average about 450 billion tons of ice each year from flowing outlet glaciers, which was replaced with snowfall.
“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,” King said. “And what we see is that it was relatively steady until a big increase in ice discharging to the ocean during a short 5-6 year period.”
The Greenland ice sheet is about the same size as the state of Alaska and 10,000 feet thick in places. It contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 23 feet (7 meters).
This is catastrophic news, but it should serve to catalyse momentum to fight the climate catastrophe. Even if Greenland can’t regain the icy bulk that covered its 2 million square km, containing the global temperature rise can slow the rate of ice loss.
This means we have to do everything we can to put pressure on our governments and authorities to implement policies that rapidly accelerate a pathway to a low carbon economy and immediately cease involvement with climate damaging industries such as the fossil fuel sector.
In the meantime, as individuals we must withdraw our patronage to goods, services and entertainment providers that have any affiliation with climate damaging companies.