Greenland’s Startling Decline

Greenland's Startling Decline

Zack Fogarty

If someone were to ask you about rising sea levels, after imagining vivid images of cities with flooded streets, your mind would probably change its focus to the melting ice caps. The ice caps, in the south especially, have been hemorrhaging ice for years—ever since the third industrial revolution. Just last month, a Delaware sized piece broke off of the Antarctic Peninsula. But these occurrences aren’t limited to the poles; when the sea levels do begin to rise noticeably, Greenland, the second largest body of ice in the world, will be just as carved away as either pole.

A study released just last month (April 22nd) revealed just how drastically Greenland’s glacial climate has changed in the past 46 years. Using laser measurements of the dimensions of the ice, measurements of the ice’s gravity, and satellite images, the scientists determined that Greenland’s ice was melting 6x faster than in 1980. They also wanted to know how the ice behaved further into the past. Dividing the ice into 260 basins and studying them individually, they discovered that between 1972 and 1980 Greenland actually gained 47 trillion kg of ice, and that mass loss didn’t start until the 1980’s. The ice lost 51 trillion kg from 1980 to 1990 and 41 trillion kg from 1990 to 2000. These numbers, while concerning, were nothing compared to what was to come in the next decade. From 2000 to 2010, Greenland lost 187 trillion kg of ice and, from 2010 to 2018, lost 286 trillion kg of ice.

These numbers only confirm what scientists had already assumed; Greenland is shedding ice at an alarming and accelerating rate. Despite being considerably smaller than Antarctica, weighing in at a mere 6 quintillion kg of ice, a totally melted Greenland could lead to sea levels rising by nearly 25 feet.

The next question to ask is what is causing the dramatic increase in the change of Greenland’s climate, but the answer is simple and probably disappointing. The cause is really just the 1 degree increase in global temperature. When this seemingly tiny change is coupled with the natural oscillation of North Atlantic temperature and pressure, it has a huge impact on the overall climate. This cycle is very similar to the El Niño cycle which, when combined with global climate change, results in the bleaching of most of the world’s coral reefs. Sadly, there isn’t much immediate action that we as individuals can take to reverse this destruction. A study released in May 2017 showed that even if we covered the planet in trees, eliminating most natural ecosystems and reducing global agricultural production, it would still be impossible to prevent worsening climate change, not without global cutting of carbon emissions. Changing this kind of global change would require a lifestyle change from the majority of the human race as a whole, and not only is that unlikely, it’s probably impossible to reach before something monumental and irreversible happens.