AUG 01, 2016 11:30 AM PDT

Ice loss for Greenland, Sea rise for the world


A satellite study, published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the Greenland ice sheet lost a whopping 1 trillion tons of ice between the years 2011 and 2014 alone. That big of a number may be hard to digest - it’s equivalent to the weight of more than 2.7 million Empire State Buildings with a cube over 10 kilometers (six miles) on a side. That’s taller than Mt. Everest, and would have about three times that mountain’s volume! And according to the team of scientists who used ice models and data from the European Space Agency's CryoSat satellite to perform the study, a big portion of it came from just five glaciers and the melt led to a 2.5-millimeter rise in sea levels in just four years.These numbers are otherwise unprecedented considering that over 20 years prior to 2011, sea levels rose just half that amount in a time period that was five times longer. This means the massive melt is accelerating sea level rise at an alarming rate - so alarming that the study’s results are sounding a warning bell around the world.
 
Photo: www.eaglenews.ph

Ice loss from Greenland may have contributed as much as a full inch of sea-level rise in the last 100 years and up to 10 percent of all the sea-level rise that’s been documented since the 1990s. Research already suggests that the ice sheet has lost at least 9 trillion tons of ice in the past century and that the rate of loss has increased over time. Climate scientists are keeping a close eye on the region because of its potentially huge contributions to future sea-level rise, whose numbers vary depending on which data you use. Some sources say that if the whole Greenland ice sheet were to melt, sea levels could rise some 20 feet. As it is, sea levels are expected to rise from as little as three feet to as much as six and a half feet by 2100, according to NOAA.

The CryoSat-2, an environmental research satellite launched by the European Space Agency in 2010 from which the research team procured its data, uses altimetry -  basically, measuring how the surface of Greenland’s altitude changed over time in response to ice gains or losses.  But they had to make sure to differentiate between ice and snowfall, for they have different densities.

“Simplistically, if the ice sheet’s going up, we can find that as evidence that the ice sheet is growing,” said lead author Malcolm McMillan, a research fellow at the University of Leeds. “And where we see that the ice sheet surface is lowering, we can find that the ice sheet is losing ice. Snow and ice are at different densities, so they’re associated with a different amount of mass loss,” McMillan explained. “We used a regional climate model and a model of the surface of the ice sheet to really inform us and tell us about the nature of the changes that we’re seeing.”
 
Receding glacier in Greenland. Photo: mashable.com

This ice melt of course is all due to the shocking reality that the current global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the primary driver of recent climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history.

“That should be a huge red flag to people,” geologist Hal Wanless of the University of Miami said. “That should tell people, hey look, we’ve really done it. We’re really going to initiate some serious ice sheet melt.”
 

Sources: The Washington Post, Wiley, Slate, Weather Channel, Gizmodo
 
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.
You May Also Like
DEC 23, 2018
Videos
DEC 23, 2018
Happy holidays?
It's great to get into the holiday spirit, but there's no way around it: some things about the holidays are just not healthy - for us and for the p...
DEC 29, 2018
Microbiology
DEC 29, 2018
A Microbe's Membrane Protects It From Extreme Environments
There are microscopic organisms called archaea living in some of Earth's most intense environments....
DEC 30, 2018
Videos
DEC 30, 2018
Portland is generating electricity from city water pipes
The video above talks about a new technology for generating electricity: environmental-friendly water pipes. Portland, Oregon partnered with Lucid Energy t...
JAN 13, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JAN 13, 2019
New desalination technology increases efficiency
Desalination technology has a long way to go, as most methods require 10-1000 times more energy than traditional methods of collecting freshwater. However,...
FEB 14, 2019
Earth & The Environment
FEB 14, 2019
Deep-sea CO2 reservoirs threaten our fragile climate
New research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters by an international team of Earth scientists led by USC adds a scary twist to our view...
FEB 18, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 18, 2019
Marine Protected Areas Crucial for Commercially Harvested Animal Populations
Humans commercially harvest many marine animals because a booming market exists above the ocean’s surface. Unfortunately, some these same animals are...
Loading Comments...