Greenland’s Glaciers Melting at Double the Speed Compared to 20 Years Ago

A new study has found that Greenland’s coastal glaciers are melting at double the rate of what they were just two decades ago. This has raised concerns about the glaciers’ rapid retreat, indicating that they have entered a new phase of decline.

While the ice sheet of Greenland has been extensively studied, researchers in the new study focused on the impact of warming on the numerous glaciers dotted along Greenland’s coastline. To illustrate this, they analyzed satellite imagery and historical photos, tracking changes in over 1,000 glaciers spanning more than a century. Surprisingly, many of the historical photos were previously tucked away in a forgotten collection until it was discovered in a castle near Copenhagen.

A photograph captured by a Danish pilot in 1948, now part of the Danish National Archives, depicts the striking transformation of Greenland’s coastal glaciers over the years. Laura Larocca, a NOAA climate scientist and lead author, stated, “Starting in the 1930s, Danish pilots donned polar bear-fur suits and embarked on aerial mapping expeditions, amassing over 200,000 photos of the island’s coastline. A project of this magnitude demands considerable effort and manual labor to digitize the analog air photos.”

The images revealed a stark reality, showing that melting has accelerated tremendously across Greenland. Reportedly, northern glaciers have lost around 10 percent of their length in the last 20 years, while southern glaciers have witnessed an 18 percent reduction. These alarming findings were published in the journal ‘Nature Climate Change.’

In a surprising revelation, the study indicated that Greenland’s glaciers, pound for pound, contribute more to rising sea levels than its massive ice sheet. Larocca emphasized the need for immediate action, highlighting that the next few decades will significantly impact the fate of these glaciers. She added, “Every incremental increase in temperature has a profound impact on the glaciers.”

The study compels us to confront the urgency of the situation and calls for immediate, concerted efforts to combat the alarming rate of glacier loss in Greenland.

To learn more about glacier retreat and the impact of climate change on other regions, see the article “For Uganda’s Vanishing Glaciers, Time Is Running Out” on Yale E360.


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