Greenland Ice Sheet Starts Melting Way Too Early This Year — Is Global Warming Or Natural Causes To Blame?

Greenland ice sheet has started melting way too early this year. Scientists monitoring the glacial ice were surprised, not at the quantum of meltwater, but the unusual and concerning timing of the occurrence.

Greenland’s massive ice sheet has started to experience an extensively early melt, concerning the scientists observing the region. Researchers aren’t quite sure why the ice sheet has begun to melt so early in the year, but noted that the extent of melt isn’t uncommon and fairly predictable. They speculate that temperatures and unusual rains might be the reason, but don’t rule out man-made causes like global warming.

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About 12 percent of the Greenland ice sheet, or 1.7 million square kilometres, is showing signs of melting ice, observed scientists at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI). The sheet was covered in meltwater that was at least a millimeter thick. Scientists typically observe such vast areas under meltwater only in May. What’s equally concerning is that merely a day before, only 4 percent of the ice sheet was showing signs of melting. The double-digit figures have perplexed the scientists, noted Peter Langen, a climate scientist with the meteorological institute,

“We had to check that our models were still working properly. Such a melt is normal for late May, but not mid-April. Something like this wipes out all kinds of records, you can’t help but go. ‘This could be a sign of things we’re going to see more often in the future,”

The scientists think the early start might be a consequence of warm air becoming trapped over Greenland and shedding rain along the coast, reported Los Angeles Times. In other words, an unusual weather system is drawing a lot of warm air into the region and channeling a large quantum of warmer-than-normal rain up from the south.

Does this mean the ice sheet in Greenland is melting due to natural causes? Scientists cautiously agree that the melting of the ice sheet is part of a natural weather system, reported Al Jazeera. However, they are quick to stress that man-made and accelerated climate change has significantly worsened the situation.

Phenomena like these are called “extreme melt event,” and they aren’t uncommon. A remarkably similar event occurred in 2012. However, the situation back then was indeed quite extreme because roughly 95 percent of the ice sheet was covered in some amount of melted water. Incidentally, the meltwater does refreeze once the warmer climate passes, but it does capture some heat, which can be detrimental to the ice in the long run, shared Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland,

“Melt water refreezing releases heat into the snow at depth, reducing the amount of heating needed for melt to start and forming ice layers that can help melt water run off the ice sheet earlier with climate warming.”

Over the last century, the Greenland ice sheet has lost more than 9 trillion metric tons of ice. The rapidly and increasingly melting ice is one of the most visible and apparent signs of man-made global warming, stress environmentalists. Ever increasing fossil fuel consumption is causing sea levels to gradually rise, putting coastal areas at risk, said NASA ice scientist Walt Meier,

“Things are getting more extreme and they’re getting more common. If the entire Greenland ice sheet melted, which would take centuries, it could add six meters or more to the global sea level. But within the next century, Greenland ice melt alone could raise it by a meter or so. The concern is things are moving faster than we thought.”

According to climate models, the Greenland ice sheet should not be experiencing any melt at this time of the year. What’s equally concerning is that Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, reached 62 degrees (16.6 degrees Celsius) on Monday, smashing the April record high temperature by 6.5 degrees, reported New York Post.

[Photo by Alexandra Kobalenko/Getty Images]