Researchers say parts of the Greenland ice sheet are experiencing the warmest temperatures in 1,000 years, per CBS News.
To reach this conclusion, scientists drilled holes into the ice sheet and used the ice cores to create a temperature timeline from the year 1000 to 2011. This allowed them to separate sections and determine when temperatures fluctuated in Greenland’s history and whether they were natural variations or caused by humans.
According to their research, published in the scientific journal Nature, human activity has sped up the ice sheet’s melting and has contributed to higher temperatures.
Why is the Greenland ice sheet important?
Greenland is one of the most remote parts of the planet, and the ice sheet plays an important role in Earth’s climate. The study cites its sheer size, radiative capabilities and freshwater storage capacity as being instrumental in the climate system.
It is also an indicative tipping point that scientists can observe to understand warming effects. One of the ways scientists monitor the ice sheet is through observation of melting and decrease in overall size.
Using data they’ve obtained about melting patterns, scientists at NASA have projected Greenland’s contribution to global sea level rise and glacial melt from 2007 to 2100.
As it stands, Maria Hörhold, lead author of the Nature study and a glaciologist with the Alfred Wegener Institute, told CNN that “Greenland is the largest contributor currently to sea level rise.”
She added, “And if we keep on going with the carbon emissions as we do right now, then by 2100, Greenland will have contributed up to 50 centimeters to sea level rise and this will affect millions of people who live in coastal areas.”
Rising sea levels can be catastrophic, especially to atoll islands resting at or below sea level like the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives, per the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Entire island nations are at risk of disappearing due to sea level rise, which is compounded by the potential damage from dangerous storms made more severe and frequent by the changing climate.
Other countries like the Netherlands (part of which sits below seal level), Indonesia, Panama and the various communities along the U.S. coastline are all threatened by rising sea levels, per the NRDC.
Ecosystems in at-risk areas are also subject to the dangers of rising sea levels.
People in these areas are subject to increased flooding, sinking and displacement and will continue to face these issues as sea levels rise.
What are scientists doing to study the ice sheet post 2011?
According to CBS News, Hörhold said, “We keep on (seeing) rising temperatures between 1990s and 2011. ... We have now a clear signature of global warming.”
The study reveals that the spike in temperature began around 1995. 2011 marks the end of the timeframe being analyzed through the ice cores. Because the ice cores take years to study, the ones from 2019 aren’t ready yet.
Hörhold expects the warming trend to continue, per The Associated Press.
Since 2011, Greenland has seen warmer conditions that couldn’t be captured in earlier ice cores.
In 2012, Greenland experienced a record melt and since then the ice loss has been significant. 2019 saw a heat wave that caused a 1.5mm sea level rise, 532 billions of tons of ice shed from the ice sheet and massive surface level melting of the ice sheet, per CNN.
In 2021, Greenland recorded the first rainfall at Greenland’s summit, which turned into extreme rainfall.
Danish Meteorological Institute ice scientist Jason Box warns that, “We should be very concerned about North Greenland warming because that region has a dozen sleeping giants in the form of wide tidewater glaciers and an ice stream,” per The Associated Press.
These “sleeping giants” have the potential to increase glacial melt from the Greenland ice sheet, Box said.