American Oceans

Massive Sea Level Rise Projected After 35% of Greenland’s Ice Shelves Lost

people staring out at a fjord in greenland

A new study published in Nature Communications reveals that North Greenland’s ice shelves have lost more than 35% of their total volume since 1978. Ice shelves are the part of ice sheets that float over water. Three of those shelves in North Greenland have “completely” collapsed, and of the five main shelves that remain, they have seen a “widespread increase” in how much mass they have lost, mostly due to the warming of the ocean.

Basal melting, the melting of ice from underneath, could also be playing a complex and crucial role in thinning the ice shelf from below. When that ice becomes too thin, it makes the structure more “prone to enhanced fracturing.” Scientists say there could be “dramatic consequences” for glaciers and the planet if the melting continues.

Greenland ice sheet is the second-largest contributor to sea-level rise. From 2006 to 2018, scientists noted that the single sheet was responsible for more than 17% of sea-level rise in that period. The observed increase in melting coincides with a distinct rise in ocean potential temperature, suggesting a strong oceanic control on ice shelves changes. The study authors said, “We are able to identify a widespread ongoing phase of weakening for the last remaining ice shelves of this sector.” The resulting discharge “could have dramatic consequences in terms of sea-level rise.”

Glaciers and ice sheets melt faster than they can gather new snow and ice as global temperatures increase, particularly in the oceans, which absorb 90% of warming on the planet. Having both warmer air and warmer ocean water amplifies the loss of ice.

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