Greenland Sees Massive Ice Melt

08 August, 2019

The recent heat wave that broke temperature records across Europe broke different records when it arrived in Greenland.

On August 1, the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced its biggest single-day of ice loss in recorded history. About 12.5 billion tons of ice melted and poured into the Atlantic Ocean, satellite data showed.

In this image taken on Thursday Aug.1, 2019 large rivers of melting water form on an ice sheet in western Greenland and drain into moulin holes that empty into the ocean from underneath the ice. (Photo via Caspar Haarl<I>&#</I>248;v, Into the Ice via AP)
In this image taken on Thursday Aug.1, 2019 large rivers of melting water form on an ice sheet in western Greenland and drain into moulin holes that empty into the ocean from underneath the ice. (Photo via Caspar Haarl&#248;v, Into the Ice via AP)

One day earlier, over 10 billion tons of ice melted.

Every 1 billion tons of ice lost creates enough water to fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools, the Danish Meteorological Institute noted late last week. The center offered the comparison to help people try to understand just how much ice melted.

One Danish scientist offered a different comparison. Climate expert Martin Stendl said the total ice that melted in Greenland on July 31 and August 1 could cover all of Germany with seven centimeters of water.

The Greenland Ice Sheet covers 80 percent of the island. It has developed over many thousands of years from snow that has continually pressed itself into ice. It is the world's second-largest body of ice, after the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Greenland's so-called "melt season" usually goes from June to the end of August. During these months, billions of tons of ice melts and flows into the Atlantic. A lot of what melts, however, does not flow away. It later refreezes onto the ice sheet when the weather cools.

The ice sheet has lost about 248 billion tons so far this year, says polar scientist Marco Tedesco. He is with Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.

Greenland saw its most expansive ice melt on record in July 2012. That month, over 90 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet was at least partly melting, scientists say. By late July 2012, about 250 billion tons of ice had melted.

Last week, Tedesco spoke with reporters at National Geographic. He told them Greenland's 2019 melt season could end up breaking the record set in 2012. "We're basically on pace," he said.

A June 2019 study by scientists in the United States and Denmark found that melting ice in Greenland will add between 5 and 33 centimeters to sea level rise by the year 2100.

The recent extreme melting in Greenland was caused by the same burst of hot air that hit Europe in late July. Places across Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Britain broke hot temperature records.

Heat waves have always happened, notes Mike Sparrow, an expert at the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization. But he says extreme heat waves are happening 10 times more often now than they were a century ago.

Sparrow told The Associated Press that such heat waves are weather events than can happen naturally. "But," he said, "studies have shown that the frequency and intensity...have increased due to global warming."

He also noted that sea ice spread in the Arctic and Antarctic are both currently at record lows.

On Monday, scientists confirmed that July 2019 was the hottest month in Earth's recorded history. It beat the record set in July 2016, when the planet was experiencing an especially strong El Niño event.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Ashley Thompson wrote this story based on an Associated Press report and additional materials. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

ice sheet - n. a very large and thick area of ice that covers a region

pace - n. the speed at which someone or something moves

frequency - n. the number of times that something happens during a particular period

global - adj. involving the entire world

El Niño - n. a flow of unusually warm water along the western coast of South America that causes many changes in weather in other places (such as a lot of rain in areas that are usually dry)