Scientists: Greenland Ice Sheet is melting on 'overdrive' as planet warms

Scientists: Greenland Ice Sheet is melting on 'overdrive' as planet warms

The melting of Greenland's ice sheet has accelerated to unprecedented rates in the face of rising temperatures, analysis of ice cores has found.

According to the study's report, Greenland ice sheet meltdown witnessed "a more sustained and greater magnitude of melt than any other 10-year period in the 350-year record".

According to Trusel, the current thought in the scientific community is that there is a temperature threshold that could trigger a point of no return for the eventual melting of Greenland and Antarctica's ice sheets.

"As a result, Greenland melt is adding to sea level more than any time during the last three-and-a-half centuries, if not thousands of years".

An increased rate of melting was detected in the ice cores beginning in the mid-1800s, which was around the same time as the onset of industrial-era Arctic warming.

Today, these rates are "off the charts", said glaciologist Sarah Das, who is a co-author of the study, published this week in the journal Nature.

Melting ice is the primary cause of rising water levels and researchers predict that over the next couple of decades there will be massive flooding in coastal towns round the world.

As the ice sheet melts it becomes slightly darker, absorbing more sunlight and melting more, even if temperatures do not change, while increased melting can generate impermeable ice layers which exacerbate runoff.

Ice loss from Greenland is the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise, which is predicted to lead to inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities around the world over the next several decades and centuries.

Today, Greenland's ice sheets are melting at a rate 50% higher than pre-industrial levels and 33% above 20th-century levels, the scientists found. Greenland experiences seasonal melt during the warm summer days, and at low elevations, the melting is more intense.

The scientists used ice core samples to look back into the history of melting on the ice sheet.

Scientists at four ice core labs in the United States measured physical and chemical properties along the cores to determine the thickness and age of the melt layers. Melt layers that were thicker indicated the years in which more melting occurred, whereas thinner sections represented years with less amount of melting.

The results from the ice cores were combined with observations from satellites and climate models.

But at higher elevations the summer meltwater quickly refreezes from contact with the below-freezing snowpack sitting underneath, preventing it from escaping the ice sheet in the form of runoff.

"To be able to answer what might happen to Greenland next, we need to understand how Greenland has already responded to climate change", he said. They found that the disappearance of the ice has accelerated after the Industrial revolution in the mid-nineteenth century, but the rampant situation acquired much later.

Besides Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, ice core samples were examined at the U.S. National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Denver, Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.

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