Greenland Melting Faster Than Any Time in Last 12,000 Years

The edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet. (Photo by Jason Briner)

(CN) — The next 80 years will be a critical turning point for one of the world’s largest bodies of ice.

It can go two ways, according to a team of international researchers: humans can drastically reduce the output of greenhouse gases through an “energy diet” or watch the 660,200 square miles of the Greenland ice sheet melt away.

We could bear witness to a sobering phenomenon of 4,000 years of cumulative ice growth disappearing from the ice sheet as the amount of ice loss quadruples from previous centuries.

In a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, researchers have plotted a comprehensive timeline of Greenland’s ice sheet and the next 80 years could see ice loss that will surpass any century since the Holocene Epoch.

Led by the University of Buffalo, the team of international researchers simulated model changes with the southwest section of the ice sheet, starting some 12,000 years ago and pushing those projections to the near future in the year 2100.

The outlook is not good.

“Basically, we’ve altered our planet so much that the rates of ice sheet melt this century are on pace to be greater than anything we’ve seen under natural variability of the ice sheet over the past 12,000 years,” says study author and geology professor Jason Briner with the University of Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences in a statement. “We’ll blow that out of the water if we don’t make severe reductions to greenhouse gas emissions.”

This past July was the second warmest on record according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and all six of the hottest Julys have occurred in the last six years.

(Bob Wilder / University at Buffalo)

Ice melt on Greenland now outpaces snowfall that could replenish what drains away to the ocean according to researchers in a separate study published earlier this year.

The loss has increased rapidly since the 1990s, according to the University of Buffalo research team, which includes experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Washington, Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the University of California, Irvine.

Their simulations show that ice loss in the last 10,000 and 7,000 years ago were in the ballpark of 6,000 billion tons per century, on par with the first two decades of this century from 2000 to 2018. But that is expected to accelerate in a range from 8,800 to 35,900 billion tons under current greenhouse gas emissions — future projections that go from bad to worse-case scenario.

Researchers built a projection that mapped historical temperature and rainfall in the southwest region of the Greenland ice sheet and used that to form the simulation up to the year 1850. After that year, previous published data was used to complete the timeline.

Ground scientists also made their way on foot to validate the model to find boundaries from thousands of years ago according to the study authors.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a panel within the United Nations, has modeled four different climate futures for the planet, ranging from the best-case scenario to the worst.

The study authors say that if the planet cannot adopt the requirements to meet the best-case scenario, then the next century will include a massive melt of the Greenland ice sheet which in turn will lead to ocean level rise.

“Our findings are yet another wakeup call, especially for countries like the U.S.,” Briner says. “Americans use more energy per person than any other nation in the world. Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet. The most affluent Americans, who have the highest energy footprint, can afford to make lifestyle changes, fly less, install solar panels and drive an energy-efficient vehicle.”

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Fonds de recherche du Québec, NASA and the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation.

The Greenland ice sheet. (Photo by Jason Briner)
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