Greenland's ice is melting at an alarming rate, researchers warn

Dark meltwater on Greenland's surface

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Melting ice in Greenland, home to the second largest mass of ice after Antarctica, is thought to add 0.8 millimetres of water to global ocean levels annually, more than any other region, according to NASA.

GREENLAND'S vast mile-thick ice sheet is melting at a scale that is "off the charts" and carries major consequences for changes in climate, a new study warns.

"We show that although melt started to increase around the pre- to post-industrial transition, it really stayed fairly low and stable until about the 1990s", Das said.

Fellow glaciologist and co-author of the report Sarah Das said: "From a historical perspective, today's melt rates are off the charts, and this study provides the evidence to prove this".

'We found a 50 per cent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff since the start of the industrial era, and a 30 per cent increase since the 20th century alone'.

The rapid rise in surface melting over the last two decades in particular suggests a "non-linear" response to rising temperatures, meaning as global warming progresses this melting could greatly accelerate, contributing more and more to rising sea levels. Greenland loses ice both when icebergs calve off glaciers and when ice on the surface melts and flows to the sea as water.

In July 2012 a series of warm weather engendered nearly the whole surface of the Greenland ice sheet to commence melting a phenomenon with no pattern in the satellite record.

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An ice core is a sample taken from an ice pack with a hollow drill, revealing a cross-section that effectively looks back in time, a bit like the rings of a tree.

At higher elevations, the summer meltwater doesn't run off the ice sheet, but instead refreezes after coming in contact with the snowpack sitting underneath. In the last 20 years, however, melt intensity has increased by up to 575 percent in comparison with the pre-industrial rates.

Scientists at four ice core labs in the United States measured physical and chemical properties along the cores to determine the thickness and age of the melt layers. Thicker bands signify years of higher melting, while thinner bands indicate years of less intense melting. The team combined their results from different ice cores with satellite observations of the melting and modern climate change models.

Osman said understanding how Greenland has already responded to climate change will allow scientists to answer what might happen there next.

Being able to trace melting rates back 350 years is a particular strength of this latest research, according to Matt King from UTAS, who wasn't involved in this study.

Besides Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, ice core samples were examined at the U.S. National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Denver, Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.

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