Greenland Glaciers Are Melting Faster Than Anticipated, Leading to Rising Sea Levels: Study

Greenhouse gas emission has increased the glacial melting rate, which has caused a negative impact on coastal areas worldwide, according to the study

Greenland glacier
Greenland glacier. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty

New research has determined that glaciers in Greenland may be melting more rapidly than we think — and it's posing a significant threat to coastal areas worldwide.

According to the new study, which was published in the Nature Communications journal, Greenland's glaciers have been losing ice faster than what was previously anticipated.

The melting is due in part to global warming, which has been brought on by the emission of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, the study stated.

Researchers noted that the global sea level is rising as a result of the melting, which they said "poses a serious threat to coastal areas worldwide."

"The Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest land ice contributor to sea-level rise," the study states. "This will continue in the future but at an uncertain rate and observational estimates are limited to the last few decades."

Despite having limited information, researchers were able to look through recent data, historical photographs and aerial stereo-photogrammetric imagery to provide more of a concrete answer when it comes to the future of glaciers and global warming.

In particular, they determined how the Jakobshavn, Helheim and Kangerlussuaq glaciers in Greenland during the late 19th and early 20th century melted at rates that are just as high, if not higher, as the rates reported today, despite temperatures being lower then.

So far, the trio of glaciers alone has lost enough ice to raise the sea level to 8.1 millimeters, according to the study.

Future ice loss projections for glaciers — which drain approximately 12% of the Greenland Ice Sheet surface area and hold enough ice to raise sea level by approximately 1.3 meters — could also "underestimate the worst-case mass loss" scenarios and contribute to sea levels rising by 9.1–14.9 millimeters by 2100.

If the sea level does continue to rise, researchers said there will be a "loss of land-based ice mass, thermal expansion of the oceans, and changes in terrestrial water storage."

CNN also reported that sea-level rising could cause immense damages to cities located near water, such as New York or Shanghai, which would lead the global economy to suffer approximately $14.2 trillion in lost or damaged assets by the end of the century.

As many as 287 million people may also fall victim to the flooding, which is a major increase from the 171 million people who have suffered from floods today, the outlet reported.

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"I think when it comes to the pace of change in Greenland and really with ice everywhere in the world, we're already at five-alarm status," Twila Moon, a deputy lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, told CNN.

"And this paper is one more paper in that monstrous pile that says these are really serious changes, they're happening very quickly and we need to be taking action as soon as possible so that we can try to reduce the rate of change in the future," Moon continued.

Added David Holland, a professor of mathematics and environmental science at New York University and a co-author of the study, to CNN: "The Arctic is losing ice, and as you look in greater detail over the last century, you see periods of more loss and less loss, but always loss."

"With increased warming projected to continue into the future, increased ice loss can be expected with potentially serious negative consequences for coastal cities around the world," he noted.

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