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07 December 2018, 11:29 | Edward Lowe
Greenland's ice is melting at an alarming rate, researchers warn
In a paper published in the journal Nature, scientists from the United States, Belgium and the Netherlands analysed melt layers in ice cores in western Greenland to develop a record spanning 350 years.
The group analyzed ice layers spanning 350 years and found that the amount of Greenland ice sheet disintegrating was "exceptional" and that minimal but continued warming at present could inflict additional damage to the ice.
"From a historical perspective, today's melt rates are off the charts, and this study provides the evidence to prove this", said Sarah Das, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and co-author of the study.
Lead by glaciologist and climate scientist Luke Trusel of Rowan University, a team of US and European researchers analyzed more than three centuries of melt patterns in ice cores from western Greenland. Icebergs breaking off into the ocean from the edge of glaciers are a spectacular example.
"Greenland ice is melting more in recent decades than at any point in at least the last four centuries, and probably more than at any time in the last seven to eight millennia", said the lead author Luke Trusel, of Rowan University, to The Guardian. Rather than increasing steadily as the climate warms, Greenland will melt increasingly more for every degree of warming. "The melting and sea level rise we've observed already will be dwarfed by what may be expected in the future as climate continues to warm", Trusel said. Over the 20th century alone, the runoff of meltwater increased 33 percent.
To study the melting of Greenland's ice sheet, the team used a large drill to collect ice cores from sites more than 6,000 feet above sea level on the ice sheet and a nearby ice cap. In the case of the cores drilled by the researchers, the record goes back into the 17th century. "We demonstrate that Greenland ice is more sensitive to warming today than in the past - it responds non-linearly due to positive feedbacks inherent to the system".
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"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.
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But at higher elevations the summer meltwater quickly refreezes from contact with the below-freezing snowpack sitting underneath, preventing it from escaping the ice sheet in the form of runoff. This frozen meltwater creates distinct ice bands that pile up over years to form layers of densely packed ice.
Researchers from the MIT-WHO Joint Program, University of Washington, Wheaton College, University of Leige, Desert Research Institute, and Utrecht University also worked on the study. At these facilities, the cores were examined. "And increasing melt began around the same time as we started altering the atmosphere in the mid-1800s", said the researcher, alluding to a human activity as the likely culprit for this warming. The team found that not only did their method show the thickness of the annual melt layer but also how much melting occurs at certain coring sites and across the whole of Greenland.
The study confirms ice loss from Greenland is one of the main factors contributing to the sea level rise.
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