Greenland Ice Loss Causes 40% of 2019 Sea Level Rise
Sun, April 18, 2021

Greenland Ice Loss Causes 40% of 2019 Sea Level Rise


The impacts of climate change have taken a huge toll on the world’s oceans, and the rise of sea levels is proof of this. Previous studies have shown that since 1880, average sea levels have swelled over 8 inches, with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Since then, the rise has seemed unstoppable. Every year, the sea rises another .13 inches. 

The change in sea levels is linked to three primary factor: thermal expansion, melting glaciers, and loss of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets. All of these are results of climate change. As simple as this environmental issue sounds, the rise of sea levels can bring devastating impacts not only on our planet but also on humankind. According to National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, it can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination with salt, and lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants.

The rise in sea levels could impact millions of people across the world, especially if they live near the coast. This is because the swelling up of our oceans can cause coastal flooding and coastal erosion, as well as higher storm surges moving further inland. Unfortunately, many scientists said that the oceans will keep rising as the planet warms. A 2019 report from that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that the oceans could rise between 10 and 30 inches by 2100 with temperatures warming 1.5 degrees Celsius. Another analysis predicted a rise of 26 inches by the end of this century if the current trajectory continues.



Greenland Ice Loss

Greenland, unfortunately, is currently the biggest contributor to global sea level rise. Increased heat due to global warming is causing its massive ice sheets to melt more quickly. Scientists revealed last year that Greenland has lost ice seven times faster than in the 1990s. This pushes up previous estimates of global sea level rise and puts 400 million people at risk of flooding every year by the end of the century.

Scientists previously thought that ice loss in Greenland wasn’t a big deal, and that it responded slowly to changes in climate. However, studies on the melting ice in the region proved that they were wrong. “Early on, we weren’t thinking about Greenland as being really critical on these kinds of decadal scales, and we didn’t have tools to look at them on those time scales,” Twila Moon, a glacier expert at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, explained. 

A 2019 study published in Nature revealed that Greenland has lost 3.8 trillion tons of ice since 1992, which was enough to push global sea levels up by 10.6 millimeters. According to, an internet news portal that provides the latest news on science, since the 1990s, the rate of ice loss has risen from 33 billion tons annually to 254 billion tonnes per year in the last decade. The findings show that the ice losses are rising faster than expected by the IPCC.

"As a rule of thumb, for every centimeter rise in global sea level, another six million people are exposed to coastal flooding around the planet. On current trends, Greenland ice melting will cause 100 million people to be flooded each year by the end of the century, so 400 million in total due to all sea level rise. These are not unlikely events or small impacts; they are happening and will be devastating for coastal communities,” lead author Professor Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds said. 

The assessment was based on the satellite observations over a 26-year period. The researchers reanalyzed the data from 11 satellite missions flown from 1992 to 2018 and combined their observations with the latest weather and climate models. According to the BBC, an operational business division of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs, the study not only shows how Greenland is reacting to the Arctic's rapid warming but also shows the 0.75 degree Celsius temperature rise in the past decade.

"Greenland is losing ice in two main ways - one is by surface melting and that water runs off into the ocean; and the other is by the calving of icebergs and then melting where the ice is in contact with the ocean. The long-term contribution from these two processes is roughly half and half,” co-author Dr. Ruth Mottram said. 



An Alarming Rise of Sea Levels

Findings from a recent report published by the European Geosciences Union suggested that scientists may be underestimating the threats Greenland’s ice faces. The report revealed that the ice sheet suffered a net loss of 600 billion tons last year, which was enough to raise the global watermark 1.5 millimeters. This accounts for approximately 40% of the total sea-level rise in 2019. The dramatic loss was mainly driven by two factors: warm temperatures but also unusual high-pressure weather systems.

According to EcoWatch, a leading environmental news site engaging millions of concerned individuals every month, the unusual high-pressure weather systems have blocked the formation of clouds. This has caused unfiltered sunlight to melt the surface of the ice sheet. The researchers also found out that snow is about 100 billion tons below the 1980-1999 average. "These atmospheric conditions are becoming more and more frequent over the past few decades,” lead author Marco Tedesco, a scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said. 

Unfortunately, sea level rise is only getting worse. A recent analysis of satellite data has revealed the astounding loss of ice in Greenland. This is enough to raise global sea levels by 2.2 millimeters in just two months. This time, the researchers found, the loss of land-based glaciers directly caused the seas to rise. "We knew this past summer had been particularly warm in Greenland, melting every corner of the ice sheet, but the numbers are enormous,” lead author Isabella Velicogna, a professor of Earth system science at the University of California Irvine, said.