A new study has revealed that glaciers and ice caps in Greenland have experienced widespread mass loss since the beginning of the 20th century. The research provides critical insights into long-term changes to the glaciers and ice caps as a result of climate change, which has contributed to about one fifth of global sea-level rise in the last decade.

Using historical data, scientists have mapped 5,327 glaciers and ice caps that existed at the end of the Little Ice Age in 1900, a period of widespread cooling when average global temperatures dropped by as much as 2°C. They have revealed that these fragmented into 5,467 glaciers and ice caps by 2001.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, is titled “Mass Loss of Glaciers and Ice Caps Across Greenland Since the Little Ice Age”. The study reveals that Greenland’s glaciers have lost at least 587 km3 of ice over the last century, accounting for 1.38 millimeters of sea-level rise.

The study has estimated that the speed at which the water melted between 2000 and 2019 was three times higher than the long-term average since 1900.

Lead author, Dr. Jonathan L. Carrivick from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, said that “The impact of meltwater run-off from Greenland into the North Atlantic extends beyond global sea-level rise, affecting North Atlantic ocean circulation, European climate patterns, and Greenlandic fjord water quality and marine ecosystems.” He also added, “This has immense implications on humans too, with these glacier changes having a direct impact on the economic activities of fishing, mining, and hydropower, as well as affecting people’s health and behavior.”

Implications for Future Predictions

Greenland’s glaciers and ice caps rank as the second-largest source of meltwater after Alaska. Co-author, Dr. Clare Boston from the School of the Environment, Geography, and Geosciences at the University of Portsmouth, has said that “Previous research using satellite data suggests Greenland’s glaciers and ice caps could lose between 19 percent and 28 percent of their volume by 2100.” She further added, “These predictions only use information gathered from the past few decades, whereas our research provides baseline data from more than 100 years ago. Seeing how glaciers have evolved over a longer period of time can give us a better chance of predicting how they’ll change in the future.”

The paper stresses the importance of understanding these changes in the context of global sea-level rise. The research also emphasizes the complex nature of glacier evolution due to considerable differences in locations, temperatures, and the influence of regional and local factors.

Dr. Carrivick added, “This study contributes great spatial coverage, spatial resolution and temporal detail to our understanding of Greenland’s glacier changes, providing a valuable resource for policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders concerned with climate change and its impacts.” He further added, “It represents a crucial step towards unraveling the dynamics of Greenland’s glaciers and their role in global climate change, as the world faces the challenges posed by a warming Arctic.”

The study highlights the need for policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders to work together to address the issue of climate change, which has far-reaching consequences for the planet and its inhabitants.


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