The Vanishing Ice of Greenland
Sun, April 18, 2021

The Vanishing Ice of Greenland

From the Arctic to Peru, Switzerland to Man Jaya in Indonesia, grotesque glaciers, huge ice fields, and sea ice are disappearing fast / Photo by: Vojife via Wikimedia Commons

 

From the Arctic to Peru, Switzerland to Man Jaya in Indonesia, grotesque glaciers, huge ice fields, and sea ice are disappearing fast. What is more daunting is the recent issue published by the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal Nature that reported that Greenland has lost 3.8 million tons of ice since 1992, sufficient to elevate global sea level by 10.6 millimeters. This is a seven-fold increase within three decades from 33 billion tons per year in the 1990s to 254 billion tons per year in the last 10 years.

It was predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 that global sea levels will increase by 60 centimeters by 2100, placing 360 million people at risk to yearly coastal flooding. However, a study conducted by a group of scientists led by professor Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds and Dr. Erik Ivins at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California predicts a faster rate at seven centimeters more. According to Shepherd, for every centimeter rise in global sea level six million people are at risk of coastal flooding. Considering the present trajectory, 100 million are at risk of flooding yearly or equal to 400 million people devastated and displaced by the end of the century.

Transformation and Consequences of Greenland Ice

The remains of the second summertime heatwave in Europe moved over to Greenland in late July this year, causing more than 50% surface ice sheet to melt.

Greenland is seen as a tightly packed slab of ice that cannot be penetrated. In reality, the ice sheets surface is like snow cones compressed into glaciers with plenty of air pockets. When the top of the snow cones melt, the liquid water seeps down and soak the thick layer of old snow called firn like a 100-foot thick sponge, implying that the firns are losing their absorbency. This summer of 2019, Greenland started to flow away as runoff affecting local hydrology. The extensive meltdown every summer has expanded Greenland’s runoff zone by about 26% that increased the global sea levels by about a millimeter.

If carbon emissions continue to climb, it is estimated that ice slab production could add up to three inches of sea-level rise by 2100, an increase by nearly a third. According to Kristin Poinar, a glaciologist at the University of Buffalo, the continuous formation of ice slabs near the ice sheets surface absorb more solar radiation and warm up. Indrani Das, a glaciologist at Columbia University, added that the runoff can seep into the large cracks of the ice sheets and make them flow faster into the bedrock and cause the glaciers to pour out their contents into the ocean more rapidly.

Greenland is seen as a tightly packed slab of ice that cannot be penetrated. In reality, the ice sheets surface is like snow cones compressed into glaciers with plenty of air pockets / Photo by: Christine Zenino via Wikimedia Commons

 

New Lake Formation

The crumbling of Greenland’s ice sheet is currently the largest source of global sea-level rise. Scientists reveal that if the entire ice sheets completely melt, sea levels could go up by about 20 feet. Scientists from NASA chronicled that the number of lakes on the ice sheet has increased by 27% with the years 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2019 registering the highest counts of lakes over the past two decades. The scientists further added that the 2019 meltwater lakes could be Greenland’s new normal.

Additionally, the new lakes are situated at high altitudes (6,600 feet) where they are expected to appear only in 2050. At this height, the lakes can drain faster, hastening the flow and instability and eventually their demise. This is a clear sign that the ice sheets as a whole are getting warmer. The 27% increase in the lake population is worrying and is not expected to slow down.

Preventing Meltdown

Many scientists believe the best way to save glaciers may be to deal with the problem at the source. They suggest building enormous walls to hold back the sea level rises foreseen as an upshot from global warming.

According to experts, putting up barriers of rock and sand could halt the fall of undersea glaciers as they crumble into the deep. It would be a drastic undertaking but could prove to be effective in delaying the further degradation of sea ice in light of climate change. Although the idea may sound fantastic, the design would be quite clear-cut.

Michael Wolovick, a researcher at the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University, envisioned the walls made mostly of robot-excavated ocean sediments extending from the ocean floor to the base of the floating ice glaciers. Blocking the warm salty water flow would reduce the rate of melting. It was further suggested to start the glacial geoengineering on a smaller glacier. The Jakobshavn Glacier in Western Greenland would be an ideal candidate as it would only require a 100-meter high wall extending to about five kilometers. The structure would not only hold back the melting glaciers but also prevent warmer water from reaching the bases of the glaciers under the sea. New research is now underway showing how the warm ocean water worldwide may be the principal cause of underwater glacier melting.

A group of scientists also detailed how snow-making technology can be utilized to prevent the current rapid melting. They revealed that if 7.4 trillion tons of snow were to drop on a portion of the glaciers (approximately the size of Costa Rica) over the next 10 years, glaciers destabilization will be prevented. This could be achieved by pumping the ocean water 2,100 feet from the base of the continent to the surface of the glaciers. After desalinization, it shall be transported and blasted out as snow over the glacier.

Although it is impossible to permanently halt the glacial melting, we can still endeavor to take action in reducing the meltdown to benefit the environment and mankind.

Many scientists believe the best way to save glaciers may be to deal with the problem at the source. They suggest building enormous walls to hold back the sea level rises foreseen as an upshot from global warming / Photo by: NOAA Photo Library via Flickr