Back in July, Greenland experienced a very rare period of warm weather that resulted in melting over all of Greenland’s ice cap. That said, for this summer, this single period of extremely warm weather was just the capstone of what has been an extraordinary melt season.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) recently released a report including statements on Greenland’s record high elevation melt, noting that such events tend to occur with 150 year frequency (according to ice cores, the last such event happened in 1889). But the NSIDC was quick to note that lower elevation melting was perhaps even more extraordinary:
“Perhaps more important, however, is the extraordinary high melting occurring this year around the lower elevations in Greenland. Figure 6 (above) shows that the first few months of melt exceeded past higher-than-average melt seasons.”
Taking a look at the figure, it is pretty clear that Greenland melt through late July has far exceeded even the record 2010 and 2011 melt seasons. NSIDC went on to report that this year’s melt resulted in flooding for a number of rivers in Greenland and this, in turn, resulted in instances of structural damage.
Putting this event in context, it is important to note that increased volumes of melt from Greenland also increase the rate of sea level rise. Furthermore, increased rates of melt in Greenland result in large iceberg calving events that directly impact world shipping and maritime industries. One such calving event in July resulted in an iceberg larger than Manhattan breaking off from the ice sheet.
Finally, the unprecedented melt in Greenland did not occur in a vacuum. This summer has also brought record sea ice melt as well as a record early snow melt to the Northern Hemisphere. This series of events punctuates an ongoing trend that is years ahead of climate scientist’s expectations for impacts to global warming. In short, these kinds of events were predicted, but for one, two, or three decades on — not now. In particular, the discrepancy for sea ice melt and model predictions has been among the most glaring of these earlier than expected melt events. This issue is one we will explore more deeply in another post.
For now, I’ll leave you with this record of albedo loss for Greenland so far this year:
(NOTE: Albedo measures an ice sheet’s reflectivity. The less reflective an ice sheet becomes, the more heat it absorbs and the faster it tends to melt.)