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Greenland lost over two Gigatonnes of ice in a single day last week, with experts predicting another record year of ice loss.
Though the Arctic ‘melt season’ is a natural event which takes place every year, it’s highly unusual for that amount of ice to be lost in the middle of June.
The average melt season in Greenland occurs from June to August, with peak melting rates typically taking place in July.
Experts have already begun making comparisons to this time seven years ago, when a record-breaking ice loss meant almost all of Greenland’s ice sheet experienced melting for the first time in history.
As reported by CNN, this year, ice began to melt even earlier than 2012, and three weeks earlier than average.
Not only this, but the snow cover is also lower than average in Western Greenland, making it even more likely this year has the potential to exceed the record-breaking ice melt of 2012.
Thomas Mote, a research scientist at the University of Georgia who studies Greenland’s climate, explained to CNN how ice melt – particularly early in the season – could speed up ice loss later in the summer.
This is because white snow and ice typically reflect the sun’s ray away from it; with less ice, more of the sun’s heat will be absorbed into the ice and melt it further.
Mote stresses ‘all signs seem to be pointing to a large melt season,’ however adds that while this sudden spike in melting is ‘unusual,’ it is ‘not unprecedented’.
Although such a significant melt period is not unprecedented – having already seen large melt seasons in 2007, 2010, and 2012 – until recently, Mote notes, they were unheard of.
We’ve seen a sequence of these large melt seasons, starting in 2007, that would have been unprecedented earlier in the record. We didn’t see anything like this prior to the late 1990s.
So what is the cause for this sudden spike in melting? According to Mote, a persistent weather pattern plays a part, with a high pressure ridge pulling up warm, humid air from the Central Atlantic into portions of Greenland.
The research scientist explained:
We’ve had a blocking ridge that has been anchored over East Greenland throughout much of the spring, which led to some melting activity in April – and that pattern has persisted.
Experts warn these extreme melt seasons becoming the new norm could have significant ramifications around the globe, particularly because Greenland has been an ‘increasing contributor’ to global sea level rise over the past two decades.
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