AUG 04, 2019 8:10 AM PDT

12.5 billion tons of ice gone in a day

Experts say Greenland lost 12.5 billion tons of surface ice in a single day on Thursday of last week – a number equivalent to 4.4 million Olympic swimming pools.

The Washington Post reported that this is the largest single-day loss in recorded history, since records began in the 1950s. The most recent occurrence of such a large loss in a single day was in 2012 when Greenland had a meltdown that resulted in over 10 billion tons of melted ice, according to data from the Polar Portal.

To measure just large quantities of ice so precisely, scientists used computer model estimates based on satellite and other data. Senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Ted Scambos, commented: “This model, which uses weather data and observations to build a record of ice and snowfall, and net change in mass of the ice sheet, is remarkably accurate. I would accept the result as fact. 12.5 billion tons [lost] in one day, and the highest single-day total since 1950.”

While some melting in Greenland during the summer is normal, this level of melting is unprecedented and has been spurred by extreme heat waves throughout the summer. Greenland as well as other parts of the Arctic has also been experiencing wildfires, resulting in a burning effect which releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thus warms the planet even more.

Climate scientist Ruth Mottram, with the Danish Meteorological Institute, explained that at this time of year a normal average would be between 60-70 billion tons. However, after this July, the country’s ice sheet has now lost 197 billion tons of ice, or 80 million Olympic swimming pools. Melted runoff has turned the ice sheet into rushing rivers, affecting approximately 60 percent of its surface.

Another researcher at the Institute, Martin Stendel, added that this meltdown is sufficient enough to raise sea levels by 0.5 millimeters, or 0.02 inches, within one month. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like much, experts warn, but you won’t likely feel that way where the floodwaters are lapping at your front steps.

Sources: CNN, Gizmodo, The Washington Post

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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