Greenland’s ice sheet is melting, global seal level may rise 9 inches

November 3, 2021
An edge of the retreating Greenland Ice Sheet is viewed at 'Point 660', located 660 meters above sea level, on September 8, 2021 near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. 2021 will mark one of the biggest ice melt years for Greenland in recorded history.

Greenland’s ice sheet is melting so fast, the global sea level may rise 9 inches by 2100

Greenland’s ice sheet, the second biggest ice sheet in the world behind Antarctica, has melted so much in the past decade that global sea levels were raised one centimeter, and trends predict sea levels can rise nearly a foot higher by the end of the century.

Research published in the journal Nature Communications on Monday says 3.5 trillion tons of Greenland’s ice sheet melted from 2011-2020, which would be enough to flood all of New York City with over 14,700-feet of water.

The ice sheet is over 656,000 square miles big and if it were to be completely melted, the global sea level would rise about 20 feet, according to the National Snow and Ice Date Center. While much of it remains in tact, researchers from the University of Leeds Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling in Northern England found the sheet is melting at an exceptional rate, increasing by 21% in the past 40 years.

“Observations show that extreme melt events in Greenland have become more frequent and more intense – as well as more erratic – which is a global problem,” Lin Gilbert, co-author of the study, said in a statement

The team made the discovery by using satellite data with the European Space Agency to estimate the elevation of the ice sheet, the first time a space object has been used to do so. The team found that from 2011-2020, the runoff of Greenland’s ice sheet averaged around 357 billion tons a year.

That would, on average, raise the global sea level around one millimeter a year, but during that time, two years – 2012 and 2019 – experienced exceptionally more runoff than others as extreme weather led to, “record-breaking levels of ice melting.” In 2019, the runoff was around 527 billion tons.

The discovery comes after the National Snow and Ice Date Center said the sheet’s summer melt increased by 30% from 1979-2006 due to higher temperatures.

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“Greenland is also vulnerable to an increase in extreme weather events. As our climate warms, it’s reasonable to expect that the instances of extreme melting in Greenland will happen more often – observations such as these are an important step in helping us to improve climate models and better predict what will happen this century,” said lead author Thomas Slater.

Slater added there are reasons to feel optimistic about losing not as much ice in the future, but his colleague and co-author, Amber Leeson, painted a dark future for the ice sheet. Leeson said by the year 2100, the global sea level can rise anywhere from 1-9 inches due to melting, which could be dangerous to coastal cities around the world.

“This prediction has a wide range, in part because of uncertainties associated with simulating complex ice melt processes, including those associated with extreme weather,” she said.

Although it was not included in the study, evidence shows that this past summer was already a significant one on the ice sheet. In August, it rained on the summit for the first time since weather recording began there in 1950.

Not only that, but temperatures on the summit, which is 10,551 feet above sea level, were above freezing for over nine hours, the fourth time it had ever been documented, but third time since 2012. The rain and warmer temperatures resulted in an estimated 7 billion tons of rainfall on the ice sheet.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

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