Greenland’s Massive Ice Melt Wasn’t Supposed To Happen Until 2070
Last week, the world received yet another stark reminder of what’s yet to come as temperatures at the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet rose above freezing and melted the snow there for the first time since July 2012 and perhaps only the third time in the last 700 years. The glacier-covered island lost 12.5 billion tons of ice in one day.
As climate scientist Martin Stendel points out, that’s enough to cover all of Florida with almost five inches of water. Or, in metric units, enough to cover Germany with almost 7cm of water. Or Denmark with half a meter of water.
The ice sheet that covers Greenland is about the same size as the state of Alaska and contains enough ice to raise sea level across the globe by more than 20 feet. Every year, Greenland gains ice during the winter from the accumulation of compacted snow and then during the summer months, it loses ice from meltwater and icebergs that calve into the ocean.
A particularly warm, dry spring this year left only a thin covering of snow over exposed glacial ice. The planet has just had it’s warmest June on record, followed by the warmest July on record, consequently, ice everywhere has been melting, from the glaciers of Greenland to the Himalayas. Thankfully, summer is coming to a close in the northern hemisphere.
“We will occasionally see a little bit of melt occurring well into the fall season, but not anything that has a large impact on the annual mass loss,” Thomas L. Mote, a research professor of Geography and Atmospheric Science at the University of Georgia, told Forbes.
“We’re seeing changes in Greenland that – when you look at the climate models – are not forecast for, in many cases, for many years to come. We understand why in some cases – we understand that the models don’t always capture some phenomena like clouds that are very important in the amount of energy that reaches the ice and therefore the amount of ice melt. There are things that the models don’t do necessarily as well as we would like and so we understand that behavior and we understand why some quantum models are actually under-predicting, and I should say likely under-predicting the mass loss going forward,” Mote says.
“We’ve had a very significant mass loss since 2000. I think one of the things would be particularly alarming is seeing the same kinds of things in Antarctica. For as much ice as there is in Greenland, there are 10 times as much in Antarctica. We’re certainly seeing, starting to see signs of more mass loss from Antarctica and I think that would be the, as concerning as Greenland is, Antarctica would even be more alarming,” Mote says.
Bernie Sanders has said that a response to climate change should parallel the overnight, nationwide, the transformation that took place after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. And he’s absolutely right, America has to go to war against climate change; industry must reinvent itself and the attitude and mentality of every person in the country have to change, from every plumber and police officer all the way to the president.
If you happen to live near the coast and are wondering how that might affect you, check out the Sea Level Rise Map Viewer published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Coastal Management.
A rise of six feet would put much of Lower Manhattan underwater, particularly the areas closet to both the Hudson and East rivers. But that pales in comparison with poor Miami, New Orleans and other low-lying cities in the Florida panhandle and Gulf of Mexico regions, many of which will simply disappear.
So, what about those emissions? Prof Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany believes that we have to expect a sea-level rise of over five meters, even if the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are met. The USA is the biggest oil-consuming country and accounts for nearly 20% of the world’s total oil consumption per day. Under President Trump, it’s also the only country in the world not to agree to the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. The US military alone generates a daily carbon footprint equal to Portugal, so it’s highly unlikely those global targets will be met.
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