Greenland Ice Melt Underestimated Study Says

Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Climate Change, Environment with 1 Comment

The Guardian

ice cover

Supraglacial lakes on the Greenland ice sheet can be seen as dark blue specks in the centre and to the right of this satellite image. Photograph: USGS/Nasa Landsat

Melting ice from the coast of Greenland could make a much bigger contribution to rising sea levels than has previously been thought, a new study suggests.

Scientists believe a previously overlooked side-effect of global warming could greatly increase the rate of melting of the vast Greenland ice sheet.

The ice covers 1.7m sq km (656,000 sq m), an area three times the size of Texas. If all the ice melted and flowed into the sea, oceans around the world would rise by as much as six metres (20ft), causing extensive damage to coastal communities.

While such a disaster is not expected to happen, ice losses from Greenland are predicted to contribute 22 cm (8in) to global sea levels by 2100.

But the new findings related to lakes formed from melted ice and snow indicate that this figure may be significantly too low.


The study shows that as Arctic temperatures rise, Greenland will develop a rash of these “supraglacial” lakes which are expected to spread much further inland.

By 2060, the amount of land they cover could be double what it is today.

Future Greenland ice melt – animation
                              Future Greenland ice melt – animation Photograph: Amber Leeson

One key effect the lakes have, once they reach a critical size, is to drain through fractures in the ice to reach the ice sheet base. Like a lubricant, the lake water causes the melting ice to slide more rapidly into the ocean.

The lakes also have a direct impact on ice sheet melting because, being darker than ice, they absorb more of the sun’s heat.

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