Greenland: Earth’s Refrigerator Door Left Open
Greenland is where glaciers dwindle and seas begin to rise. Ocean scientist David Holland says the thousands of years old ice will be gone within a year or two, adding yet more water to rising seas worldwide.
Between July 31 and Aug. 3 2019 alone, more than 58 billion tons melted from the surface. The average for this time of year is less than 18 billion tons. And that doesn’t even count the huge calving events or the warm water eating away at the glaciers from below.
One of the places hit hardest this hot Greenland summer is on the southeastern edge of the giant frozen island. Helheim, one of Greenland’s fastest-retreating glaciers, has shrunk about 6 miles since scientists came here in 2005.
Several scientists, such as oceanographer Josh Willis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said what’s happening is the result of both manmade climate change and natural but weird weather patterns. Glaciers here do shrink in the summer and grow in the winter, but nothing like this year.
A NASA satellite found that Greenland’s ice sheet lost about 255 billion metric tons of ice a year between 2003 and 2016, with the loss rate generally getting worse over that period. Nearly all of the 28 Greenland glaciers that Danish climate scientist Ruth Mottram measured are retreating, especially Helheim.
“It takes a really long time to grow an ice sheet, thousands and thousands of years, but they can be broken up or destroyed quite rapidly,” Holland said.
Holland, like Willis, suspects that warm, salty water that comes in part from the Gulf Stream is playing a bigger role than previously thought in melting Greenland’s ice. If that’s the case, that’s probably bad news for the planet because it means faster and more melting and higher sea level rise. By the year 2100, Greenland alone could cause three or four feet of sea level rise, Willis said.
Holland looks out at Helheim Glacier from his base camp and sees the bigger picture. And it’s not good, he said. Not for here. Not for Earth as a whole. “It’s kind of nice to have a planet with glaciers around,” Holland said.