Scientists Discover Yet Another Threat To Greenland’s Glaciers, Signals Bad News For Rising Sea Levels

Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water on July 30, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Scientists have discovered yet another factor contributing to Greenland‘s melting glaciers and ice sheets, reported CNN. Researchers studying an ice tongue on the Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden Glacier published their results on Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The glacier, also known as the 79° North Glacier, located in northeast Greenland, features an ice tongue — a strip of ice that floats on the water but is still attached to ice on land — that is close to 50 miles long. The scientists found that an underwater current reaching a mile in width was directing warm water from the Atlantic Ocean directly towards the glacier. They concluded that the heated water was contributing to the acceleration of the glacier’s melting.

The researchers reported a similar situation with another of Greenland’s glaciers, in which a warm current had melted a large ice tongue to the point that it recently broke off into the ocean.

Greenland’s ice sheets and glaciers are melting at an alarming rate — seven times faster than in 1992. In 2019 alone, the Arctic experienced record-breaking air and ocean temperatures, causing Greenland to lose billions of tons of ice.

In July, Greenland’s ice sheet lost 197 billion tons of ice, which is the equivalent of 80 million Olympic swimming pools. Additionally, in one day alone, Greenland lost 11 billion tons of surface ice to the ocean, or the equivalent of 4.4 million Olympic swimming pools.

In this aerial view melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland.
  Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Greenland’s melting ice sheet is the planet’s greatest driver of rising sea levels. If the entire ice sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise by more than 24 feet.

Warming water temperatures contribute significantly to the rate of ice melt. A study published in 2019 found that ocean temperatures were 0.075 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average. Scientists compared the heat absorbed by the ocean today to the equivalent of dropping around five Hiroshima bombs into the water every second over the past 25 years.

Warmer oceans are not only a threat to rising sea levels, but are also a threat to the stability of ocean life. For those dependent on the ocean for food, the loss of stability could lead to a decrease in fish catches. Additionally, warmer oceans contribute to extreme weather events, such as causing hurricanes to release more rainfall.

On the opposite side of the planet, the frigid continent of Antarctica is also experiencing warming ocean temperatures, according to The Inquisitr. Similar to the Arctic, rising ocean temperatures drive sea ice melting in the Antarctic that also has the consequence of raising global sea levels.