Arctic ice cap and Greenland’s massive ice sheet melting in record time

Scientists have issued a warning that the massive ice sheet that covers Greenland may be melting at unprecedented speed. The huge island, recently the subject of Trump’s controversial property gambit, got its name thanks to the Viking marauder Erik the Red who called it Greenland to entice settlers to this forbidding and desolate place. During this year alone, Greenland lost enough ice to raise the average global sea level by more than a millimetre. This may not seem much, however, one would do well to think of the posts and beaches. A rise in sea level of 2m will submerge most if not all popular beaches, coast roads and port infrastructure. The ostriches among us may say that this means we’re good for the next 200 year. In reality, the Greenland melt is just one are which is melting rapidly. Factor in the Arctic ocean and Antarctica and the scenario is sufficient to alarm even the most passive of bystanders. The diagrams show just how much ice was lost in the Arctic between 1980-2018

One glacier in southern Greenland has thinned by as much as 100 metres since I last filmed on it back in 2004. One of the scientists studying the ice sheet, Dr Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), said he was unnerved by the potential dangers and that coastal planners need to “brace themselves”.

“Now that I’m starting to understand more of the consequences, it’s actually keeping me awake at night because I realise the significance of this place around the world and the livelihoods that are already affected by sea-level rise,” said Dr Box to the BBC

The melting ice cap in Greenland means that areas develop melt lakes. These will be like big puddles with the ice a few centimetres below the surface water, which results from the warming and melting of the surface ice. In these situations, one observes that people and animals appear to be ‘walking on water. Since meltwater is, itself warmer than ice, the effect on the ice below would be to encourage further melting, making the melt lake progressively deeper. As the melt lakes develop and the glaciers (rivers of ice) retreat, new plants appear, changing the ecosystem and encouraging further warming up.

Sea levels have risen by around 20cm since 1870, but the average annual rise is increasing. It presently exceeds 3mm a year and is likely to grow further if present trends continue.

Projections for 2100 vary, depending on the source, but conservative estimates tend to hover around the 30cm mark – thus assuming that the rise in sea level remains practically constant. Realistic worst-case scenarios tend not to exceed 2m.

But sea levels are expected to continue rising for centuries yet to come, and climate change may yet trigger an unexpected catastrophic event – such as the collapse of a major ice sheet – which could increase global sea levels considerably.