Greenland ice sheet melting ‘off the charts’ as climate warms

Sarah Das  WHOI		Large rivers form on the surface of the ice sheet in summer rapidly moving meltwater from the ice sheet to the ocean

GREENLAND'S vast mile-thick ice sheet is melting at a scale that is "off the charts" and carries major consequences for changes in climate, a new study warns. "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", Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University's School of Earth & Environment and former postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said in a statement.

Trusel's team of global researchers analyzed ice cores extracted from Greenland, a massive island wedged between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

According to the analysis, melting on the Greenland ice sheet sped up in the mid-1800s, shortly after the onset of industrial-era warming in the Arctic.

And without a huge change of direction, Greenland "will melt more and more for every degree of warming", Mr Trusel warned.

Researchers said the findings "provide new evidence of the impacts of climate change on Arctic melting and global sea level rise".

"What we were able to show is that the melting that Greenland is experiencing today is really unprecedented and off the charts in the longer-term context", said Sarah Das, an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a co-author of the study.

Lead by glaciologist and climate scientist Luke Trusel of Rowan University, a team of USA and European researchers analyzed more than three centuries of melt patterns in ice cores from western Greenland.

From these numbers, the researchers estimated that ice sheet-wide levels of meltwater runoff have jumped 50 per cent in the past 20 years compared with pre-industrial times.

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The cores of the drilling contained records of past melts, which allowed the scientists to extend their records back to the 17th century.

Speaking at United Nations climate talks in Poland on Monday, the 92-year-old broadcaster (above) blamed humanity for the "global disaster" and "our greatest threat in thousands of years". "We demonstrate that Greenland ice is more sensitive to warming today than in the past - it responds non-linearly due to positive feedbacks inherent to the system". Erich Osterberg of Dartmouth College, who co-authored the earlier study, said the new paper expands that record to the whole ice sheet. Dark bands running horizontally across the cores, like ticks on a ruler, enabled the scientists to visually chronicle the strength of melting at the surface from year to year.

Combining results from multiple ice cores with observations of melting from satellites and sophisticated climate models, the scientists were able to show that the thickness of the annual melt layers they observed clearly tracked not only how much melting was occurring at the coring sites, but also much more broadly across Greenland.

#Greenland's ice is melting more rapidly in recent decades than at any point in at least the last 350 years, and likely more than any time in the last 7,000-8,000 years.

Satellite methods to understand melting rates have only been around in recent decades, so the ability to go back further in time was important.

"It's not just increasing, it's accelerating", he explained.

The rapid rise in surface melting over the last two decades in particular suggests a "non-linear" response to rising temperatures, meaning as global warming progresses this melting could greatly accelerate, contributing more and more to rising sea levels.

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