Greenland is beginning to succumb to amplifying climate feedbacks. In short, what this means, is rising seas and the loss of one of Earth’s key cooling mechanisms.
According to polar researchers, Greenland is poised to break melt records again this year and is fast approaching a dangerous ‘tipping point’ after which the ice sheet will go into rapid decline. These research findings not only show record melt, but also a rapid reduction in the reflectivity of the ice sheet. Loss of reflectivity is critical because the primary reason the ice sheet remains cool is due to its ability to reflect solar radiation. Now, a surface covered with melt lakes and soot is absorbing more of the sun’s light and heat, heralding the beginning of rapid melt.
The primary driver of the Greenland melt, however, is human greenhouse gas emissions. Just this year, some places in the Arctic measured CO2 at records of over 400 ppm. Average CO2 worldwide is currently near 397 ppm. This is well above the safe range recommended by scientists at 350 ppm.
In the geologic past, when CO2 has reached 400 ppm, sea levels have tended to rise anywhere from 15 to 75 feet. Substantial melt in Greenland could contribute massive volumes of water to the world’s oceans, speeding sea level rise as CO2 heats the world. Such an event would likely make current scientific estimates of 1-4 feet of sea level rise by the end of this century seem extremely conservative, especially considering the fact that the same scientists expect CO2 to measure between 600 and 900 ppm CO2 and up to 11 degrees Fahrenheit additional warming by the end of this century.
It is important to note that there is no record of CO2 rise occurring at such a rapid pace in all the Earth’s history. Similar increases in CO2 have tended to occur over the course of a thousand years or more. The current rapid increase in CO2 caused by human greenhouse gas emissions is an order of magnitude faster and, therefore, much more dangerous. Both the oceans and the climate system have little or no time to respond to this rapid forcing. With such an unprecedented increase of such powerful, heat-trapping, gasses we should expect rapid, violent, and unpredictable changes to the world’s climate, oceans, weather, and glaciers.