Greenland’s ice cap disappearence accelerating

Whether you attribute the cause to climate change (global warming) or to some other mechanism, it appears that the fact is that Greenland’s ice cap is melting rapidly, and the rate of melt is increasing.

This from a report about the new data published in Science detailing the results of dual studies using atmospheric modeling and satellite data:

“[The observed] mass loss is equally distributed between increased iceberg production, driven by acceleration of Greenland’s fast-flowing outlet glaciers, and increased meltwater production at the ice sheet surface. Recent warm summers further accelerated the mass loss to 273 Gt per year (1 Gt is the mass of 1 cubic kilometre of water), in the period 2006-2008, which represents 0.75 mm of global sea level rise per year.

Professor Jonathan Bamber from the University of Bristol and an author on the paper said: ‘It is clear from these results that mass loss from Greenland has been accelerating since the late 1990s and the underlying causes suggest this trend is likely to continue in the near future. We have produced agreement between two totally independent estimates, giving us a lot of confidence in the numbers and our inferences about the processes’.”

Read the report here.

This is troubling on a number of levels. First it does indicate that the climate in the Northern Atlantic is changing. Whether that change is anthropogenic or not doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter because if it is, we may be too far into the warming process to be able to reverse it. If it isn’t, there’s not much we can do.

It’s very troubling news for people who live in Northern Europe. Northern Europe achieves its relatively mild climate because of the heat that is carried out of the Gulf of Mexico in the Gulf stream and other conveyor effect currents.

A large release of free water from melting ice on Greenland is expected to disrupt those surface and deep water currents. That will in turn decrease the amount of heat carried to the shores of western Europe. Which would probably mean that cities with the same latitude as Moscow (and even more northern) would reasonably expect to see the same sorts of harsh winters.

Which would mean the end of tropical plants on Lands End and of palm trees in Dublin.

Which I think would in turn lead to a massive demographic shift out of the Northern Europe.

Forget the issue of women bishops in the Church of England. The greater threat is probably the lack of people that such a climate change driven process would cause.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

2 thoughts on “Greenland’s ice cap disappearence accelerating”

  1. As I understand it, part of the problem is that past predictions did not account for the under-the-glacier slide that accelerates matters as well. The complexity of factors and exponential effects of each on the other are only now beginning to be understood.

  2. Thanks Christopher – that’s my understanding too. This is a seriously complicated situation to try to model; and non-linear as all get out. That means that any model that’s created is going to be very sensitive to whatever initial conditions are used.
    I suppose that’s why we’re seeing such wildly divergent predictions about what will happen.

Comments are closed.