Climate Change

Greenland’s ice melting rate increases four times in nine years

A research finds that this is a tipping point, which means global warming has brought summertime temperatures in Greenland close to melting point

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 23 January 2019
Photo: Getty Images

Climate change is getting more unpredictable. One example is the pace at which sea levels are rising in the Earth’s polar regions. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on January 21 says Greenland saw its ice melt four times faster in 2012 than in 2003.

Also, data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) project launched by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) and Germany shows that between 2002 and 2016 Greenland lost around 280 gigatonne ice every year, enough to raise sea levels by 0.03 inches annually.

The researchers also found that a good amount of this melting occurred in south-west Greenland, which is new as it’s not a glacier-rich area. Climate scientists have mostly studied the south east and north west regions for sea level rise as these have a lot of glaciers. This means the melting happened from surface ice mass, inland from the coastline, the authors found.

Natural weather phenomenon like the North Atlantic Oscillation has been blamed for this change. When ice melts at such a rate river flow increases and thus further accelerates the rate at which ice melts.

"We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers. But now we recognise a second serious problem: Increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea,” Michael Bevis, lead author of the paper and professor of geo dynamics at the Ohio State University, told the media.

Bevis added that the Greenland ice sheet might be at a tipping point which means that “global warming has brought summertime temperatures in a significant portion of Greenland close to the melting point, and the North Atlantic Oscillation has provided the extra push that caused large areas of ice to melt.” This will only become more intense as the Earth and the Arctic region become warmer and at some point scientists will not be able to determine exactly how much ice will melt and how fast.

Impact on India

This unpredictability of climate change impacts can also be seen in the recent inability of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) to correctly forecast the impact of cyclones, something it had become considerably good at over the past few decades.

Cyclones are becoming increasingly difficult to track, especially in matters of intensification. When these enormous storm systems find warm pockets of ocean water, they intensify rapidly, making them difficult to be predicted with accuracy. The warm pockets of sea water could also be a result of global warming induced by climate change.

This is what happened in the case of Cyclone Ockhi last year which had claimed more than 200 lives in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It had picked up water vapour over the sea between Sri Lanka and Kanyakumari and rapidly intensified from a depression into a cyclone in a matter of 13 hours. “It was the first cyclone where such rapid intensification in a short span was observed,” said KJ Ramesh, IMD chief.

The IMD also observed a similar phenomenon at play in two of the recent cyclones that hit the Indian mainland this year — Titli and Gaja. Both caused considerable damage in Odisha and Tamil Nadu.

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