A shocking new study has found that Greenland’s ice sheet has now melted to the point of no return.
Any efforts made now to slow global warming would not be able to stop the ice sheet from disintegrating, with the loss of ice being so significant in recent years that it has actually led to measurable changes in the gravitational field over Greenland.
The increasingly rapid flow of outlet glaciers is reported to have substantially contributed towards this loss, with the ice sheet losing mass at an accelerated rates in the 21st century. It is now the greatest single contributor to rising sea levels on the planet.
Researchers at Ohio State University compared decadal variability in discharge and calving front position when conducting this study, with the findings having now been published in scientific journal, Nature.
It was discovered that the increase of glacier discharge was almost entirely on account of retreating glacier fronts, as opposed to inland ice sheet processes. A consistent speedup of 4-5% per km of retreat across the ice sheet was noted.
Researchers were able to show that widespread retreat between the years 2000 and 2005 had resulted in a step-increase in glacier discharge, as well as a switch to a new ‘dynamic state’ of sustained mass loss that would persist even if scientists were able to slow the effects of global warming.
Co-author of the paper and professor of Earth Sciences and distinguished university scholar at the university, Ian Howat, said:
Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss. Even if the climate were to stay the same or even get a little colder, the ice sheet would still be losing mass.
This is an issue that will affect every single person on the planet. The ice that melts or breaks away from the sheet will end up in the Atlantic Ocean and, ultimately, every ocean on Earth.
Last year, so much ice ended up in the oceans that sea levels rose by 2.2mm in the space of just two months. However, researchers believe that these grim findings have brought with them ‘silver linings’.
Lead author and researcher at The Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, Michalea King, said:
It’s always a positive thing to learn more about glacier environments, because we can only improve our predictions for how rapidly things will change in the future.
And that can only help us with adaptation and mitigation strategies. The more we know, the better we can prepare.
However, the study also found that Greenland’s ice sheet is retreating in a series of rapid bursts, meaning sea level rises can be difficult to predict or prepare for.
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Ohio State News