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Greenland is melting – faster

Written By: - Date published: 9:17 am, June 19th, 2019 - 82 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, International, science - Tags: ,

Greenland holds a large store of fresh water. If fully melted, it will raise sea levels by roughly 7 metres. It is melting – fast. Last week, temperatures across Greenland about 22 degrees Celsius warmer than the normal for that time of year. It produced an extraordinary visual effect of dogs walking on water through surface melt over sea ice.

With their sled in tow, a pack of dogs trudge towards a distant mountain range in north-west Greenland.

With their sled in tow, a pack of dogs trudge towards a distant mountain range in north-west Greenland across surface melt water.

Mr Olsen and his team were retrieving equipment from a weather station in the Inglefield Fjord area. As they walked across the 1.2m (4ft) thick sea ice, water pooled on the surface.

On Twitter, his colleague at DMI Rasmus Tonboe later shared the image, telling followers “rapid melt” had occurred.

Because the sea ice is compact with almost no cracks, the image gives the impression the dogs are walking on water, Martin Stendel, senior researcher at the institute, told the BBC.

About half of Greenland had exceptional levels of surface melting last week, including over much of the thick glaciers. It was caused by a high pressure zone locking over Greenland creating warm sunny weather with little cloud. This has been an ongoing issue in the northern hemisphere in recent decades as the northern vortex jet stream pushes weather into unfamiliar patterns. It has pushed extreme cold further south or held hot air sitting in position over the US/ Canada and Russia. Further north, the cold air moving south causes melts.

That relatively warm (compared to ice) water goes somewhere – usually downwards under the glaciers. It raises the temperatures of the ice it is comes in contact with and ‘rots’ it. It makes it harder to refreeze into solid protective masses and means that next summer, the melt will accelerate even at less exceptional melting.

Just how very large sheet glaciers melt in Greenland (or anywhere else) isn’t that well understood. Efforts like the cyroegg sensors being inserted under the Greenland glaciers may help. However it isn’t hard to look at the available evidence and see that the IPCC projections are likely to be low.

For instance, that rain is becoming more frequent to fall in winter in Greenland. Now that just makes me shudder because the heat transfer into melting ice will accelerate into a year round experience. It isn’t quite as bad as having increased amount of snow falling in dry frozen desert of the East Antarctica ice sheet. But it is still pretty scary when you look at the climatic feed backs such changes make in accelerating the melt.

However just drowning coastal cities worldwide is the least of the issues. Personally I have no sympathy for people who invest in coastal property after the last 40 years of increasing evidence of human created climate change. People can just move and lose their bad investments as coastal dunes erode, sewer systems backup and the subways flood.

But the loss of that cooling block of ice in the northern hemisphere will change the balance of the working climate in the north. There is a lot of global food supply in the north susceptible to the movement of the jet streams. A combination of  colder weather moving southwards more rapidly punctuated by hotter summers, as it jams the atmospheric mixing systems, is going to play havoc with food production.


82 comments on “Greenland is melting – faster”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Good report, but bad news. A decade ago the focus was on the crevices in the ice-cap, created by meltwater, that descended to bedrock. Researchers were theorising that meltwater would spread on the bedrock surface, lubricating any eventual slide into the ocean.

    This report rather ups the ante on that scenario. We await the first major fracturing of the ice-cap. Once that happens, all hell will break loose in the global media, because it will signal that the theory is being validated by fact.

    Caution: major fractures may not develop for years yet. Meltwater may cool on the bedrock surface, and even gell rather than forcing a lateral melt. Scientific evaluation of the physics and chemistry of the interface is now required.

    • marty mars 1.1

      only diehard idiots cannot see the writing on the wall now – if they don’t get it now I doubt they ever will

      • tc 1.1.1

        +100 marty, throw in the Ross Ice shelf and other antarctica observed situations the science community are screaming about now as enhanced satellite imagery etc destroy the old predictions.

        just about literally burning at both ends now.

        • WeTheBleeple

          Yep. The testing is (almost) pointless except where we'd like estimates for a timeline of these things playing out. As we're seeing, the timelines are being smashed along with heat records everywhere.

          It's on.

          Food security will replace people's economic anxiety as the new thing to worry about. When the global ocean conveyer belt breaks down it's anyone's guess what comes after.

          It won't be wine and roses.

          • Kevin

            Global military spending is on the increase. Everyone getting ready to protect their turf.

            • WeTheBleeple

              Yep. And it's the wrong way to go – kinda. It's normal to go into bunker mentality when under threat, but the threat is not the neighbors, it's the neighbors being displaced. The preventative measure is not conflict, but humanitarian.

              Forests, not firearms. Cooperation, not competition.

              A return to local manufacturing, energy and food production is where the spend would actually count for something other than more stupid wars.

              We can look after ourselves, so can many other nations. It's only an addiction to trinkets and the medias relentless psychology that has us think we're lacking..

              "We'll be left behind!" – Catch cry of the oblivious and ignorant.

              Slow down. Put down deep roots. Branch out into your community with purpose.

              We can survive and thrive together or die fighting over scraps.

              • Gosman

                Why would increasing inefficiencies in production (including energy inefficiencies) help tackle climate change?

                • WeTheBleeple

                  You're such a moron and not worth the effort to educate cos you are wilfully ignorant.

                  • Gosman

                    Or you just can't actually articulate why spending more resources and energy making things locally makes sense.

                • left_forward

                  We're not going to tackle climate change Gooseman – its too late now – we are going to have to adapt to the mindbogglingly huge impact of global warming. WTB has some very good broad suggestions on where our focus should be if human beings and other fellow species are going to survive it. Your measuring stick about whether this will be efficient or not is entirely irrelevant, because, its bleeding obviously not going to be efficient.

                  • Gosman

                    Why do you think a more localised approach to production would be beneficial as a result of the impacts of climate change?

                    • Pat

                      basic economics Gosman…if things are less efficient to produce less things are produced….now ask yourself how that may improve the environment.

                    • Gosman

                      Basic economics dictates that it pays for nations to specialise in the productions of something and trade the surplus. That would still hold true in any Climate Changed World.

            • tc

              Pentagon's had a department on this for probably a decade already.

              It's focus is on mass population migration due to climate change/food production etc and it's security aspects.

              • Kevin

                Yep. Living on a couple of islands at the bottom of the South Pacific has finally become a winner. Relatively speaking.

        • joe90

          Antarctic ice sheets are the elephant in any discussion about rising sea levels.

          • lprent

            I'd agree – sort of.

            However just having the larger ice mass also slows down the melt. Big factor when looking at Greenland vs Antarctica.

            The differences between west and east Antarctica are so large that they really have to be treated as being completely separate ice packs and environments. West is teeny compared to East, and far more likely to melt based on what we can see in the geological history.

            The diagram kind of misses out the mountain range that largely separates the two parts, and makes a hell of a difference.

  2. Stuart Munro. 2

    Now is the time to take the battle to the diehard stupid – back Simon Bridges into a corner and have him explain what meaningful climate policies he has beyond Liberian carbon credits and similar scams.

    • Gosman 2.1

      Why do you care about Simon Bridge's policy on tackling climate change? He isn't in power. You should be more concerned with the current Government's policy.

      • WeTheBleeple 2.1.1

        Because he needs to fuck right off and let the adults talk.

        • Gosman

          No, you either need to learn to ignore him or counter him more effectively if you disagree with him.

          • Robert Guyton

            WTB is not a Member of Parliament; he doesn't "need to counter" Bridges. WTB's suggestion is bona fide.

        • Bewildered

          Need to chill WTB your going off the deep end again, It will save you having to apologise tomorrow😊 The Gos raises some points that deserve a reasoned response

      • Stuart Munro. 2.1.2

        Because, my little fruitbat, that wretched little fellow needs to grow into the role of providing smart well-reasoned opposition, including critique of the inadequacy of coalition responses to climate challenges when they occur.

        If, as his performance to date suggests, he is unable to lift his game to that point, circumstances require that he step down. We are facing a climate emergency, tolerance for blithering idiots declines.

        • Gosman

          Looks like you want the Greens to be in opposition rather than in government.

          • Stuart Munro.

            I have no opinion on the Greens, but the Gnats certainly need to grow the fuck up or gtfo.

        • Newview

          I’m not quite sure how any climate change actions are going to stop Greenland melting. I’m sure making Simon stand in the corner won’t help much. Unless any Coalition Government can organise existing occupied land infrastructure below 15mtrs, to be magically shifted to higher ground in the next few years there will be a shambles here and everywhere else around the world. Cutting out our small emissions and going zero carbon is good house keeping but that’s all. We couldn’t stop Simon breaking wind now. Maybe the idiots are those who think we can. King Canute and all that.

          • Stuart Munro.

            No, Greenland will melt irregardless.

            But putting the Gnats in their place will give the government greater freedom to respond quickly and substantially, instead of devoting their energies to parrying fatuous rubbish like Treasury leaks.

            No, carbon mitigation will not turn the corner on this, but the evidence seems to be of accelerating melting. That frees up a 20 odd metre sealevel rise for which we've made no prep, this century. Given the speed of government actions simply feeding and housing our population will be a big ask, on a par with wartime challenges.

            We ain't got time for the Gnat's usual pathetic shit – in truth we never did.

            • Newview

              I agree with you but I think the Coalitions pathetic shit will be an issue in itself. They haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory as regards housing, getting started with mental health initiatives etc. or maybe we can have a think tank and initiate climate change programs in the next five years. Oh please God no. In my view they are the Coalition. They need to pull the finger out of their own arse. Forget Simon.

              • Stuart Munro.

                Everyone has to get their shit together.

                From the dumb-as-dirt gotcha journalists to the feral corporations who are responsible for corrupting our MPs.

                But no – we go to Simon and make the ridiculous manchild grow up or get out. And if he mans up he can, as he's paid to do goddamnit!, hold the whip over the coalition.

                As it happens I don't think he has the stuff – no point in messing with the minor but vaguely positive actions of the coalition until this grievously stupid asshole and all his even stupider mates are out of the way.

              • greywarshark

                What's New about your view? Seems a repeat stated with great wisdom and confidence of what we have heard for ever.

                • Stuart Munro.

                  I don't claim it's new – though the urgency is now much more apparent – the big melt horizon is no longer the comfortably distant 2100, but appreciably likely in the next decade or two – too close for incumbent politicians to watch from a gilded retirement.

                  Perhaps you recall the TINA arguments the Rogergnomes used to foist their false necessity on the greater public? Should we scruple to turn them back on them now that there's a genuine issue? Since doing so will only have the RWNJ prioritise tax evasion over overdue mitigation strategies, I reckon not.

          • Pat

            or all the supposed inconsequential emitters could act and actually make some progress on reducing emissions instead of making the right noises but steadfastly increasing them.


  3. left_forward 3

    Thanks for this update Lp.

    I found this talk by John Englander at the Royal Institution to be very articulate and enlightening, although potentially very depressing.

    • Brigid 3.1

      Thanks for that. The questions and answers were interesting too.

      Somebody asked if any government anywhere had responded to his talk. That stumped him a bit.

  4. RedLogix 4

    To complement Englander's excellent contribution above here is Prof Tim Naish talking in 2013. Naish's PhD work in the 80's looking at Wanganui Basin sediments provided the first hard evidence of how sea level changed in deep time:

  5. johnm 6

    Will climate change kill everyone — or just lots and lots of people?

    Is climate change going to end human civilization for good, and so soon that we may as well not bother saving for retirement?

    That’s the theory put forward in a recent viral Vice post: “New Report Warns ‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ Within 30 Years.’”

    The Vice story summed up a new report from the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, an Australian think tank, arguing that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change analysis of the impacts of climate change understates how much harm it’ll do, and that in reality we face something much worse, with runaway feedback effects amplifying the initial warming until the Earth is “largely uninhabitable.” It doesn’t actually argue that the world will end in 30 years, but it suggests we’ll reach the tipping point by then.


    • Pat 6.1

      it dosnt argue the world will end….but it does make a very good case that our socio-political organisations will collapse….imagine such a world and you may wish it had ended.

  6. WeTheBleeple 7

    As a scientist I am expected to use moderate language:

    There is a possibility that X may be associated with Y.

    Emotional language is frowned upon, and so, with stoic sedative voices we have screamed at the general public for decades.

    Even my scientific writing would put you to sleep. But I am well and truly over pretending there is some magic margin of error in the science that will save us


    And that's the truth of it. Buckle up.

    • Pat 7.1

      Unfortunately the world "as we know it" is always coming to an end, change is always with us…..perhaps stating our part in this world is likely to cease PDQ may be more succinct

      • WeTheBleeple 7.1.1

        I wanted to include the 'as we know it'… or it'd sound straight out of Chicken Little's playbook. Now Disney's mangled that story maybe the metaphor's an ill fit?

        I got accused of being a conspiracy theorist today. The internet is so full of mindless voices I've little time for them anymore it's too urgent to try raise awareness to those capable of helping themselves. A critical mass capable of rapid change is required. A mass so great Government and Business are simply forced on board or they perish.

        I’m gutted the timeline of things is accelerating.

        I'm still hoping Aliens come and save us with their freeze rays.

        • Pat

          fair enough…I was being unnecessarily pedantic, but could just hear deniers saying"the world is always changing"

          • WeTheBleeple

            Oh no worries Pat, I didn't think you were being pedantic it was a good point. It illustrates the difficulty in relaying science accurately, being human and all that.

        • greywarshark

          Let's get someone over from Hong Kong over here on how to effectively protest, and perhaps do an evaluation of how we raise NZs of all ages to a real passion for good politics.

          • Stuart Munro.

            Some Koreans wouldn't hurt either – they haven't forgotten Chun Do Hwan murdering protesting students, nor the systems they created to break the military dictatorship. The Hankyoreh – a publicly subscribed newspaper company was one of these – breaking the government's pernicious media stranglehold.

    • infused 7.2

      just enjoy the ride.

      • WeTheBleeple 7.2.1

        I'm sure there'll be some well deserved schadenfreude for some. After that, maybe not so great.

        It's not the end of the universe.

  7. Cinny 8

    If it's fresh water… would that impact the sea as well…. like would it dilute it so much it would destroy marine life?

    • RedLogix 8.1

      Good question. Not directly, the ocean really is massively deep and even 20m of fresh water from the ice wouldn't significantly change the salinity overall, but it would have a major impact locally. Fresh water and salt water have a different density and don’t necessarily mix very quickly.

      BUT … and this is the big kicker, it has another much nastier impact. The oceans have a system of surface and deep currents that are all linked together. It's called the Great Oceanic Conveyor Current and it moves an immense amount of heat around the planet from the tropic into the temperate zones. It plays a major role in regional climates; yet it is vulnerable.

      Despite its enormous scope, the meridional overturning circulation is vulnerable. Places where deepwater currents are created comprise less than one percent of the ocean’s surface area. Should the temperature or salinity in these limited areas change, the creation of deep water could slow or even stop.

      There is strong evidence that such a shutdown has happened in the past, drastically altering the world’s climate in just a matter of years. Eleven thousand years ago, ice age glaciers were retreating. In central Canada, an immense glacial lake called Lake Agassiz occupied an area larger than all the Great Lakes. Suddenly the dams holding Lake Agassiz collapsed. The contents of the entire lake rushed into the North Atlantic by way of the St. Lawrence River. This massive infusion of fresh water diluted the polar seas to the point where the water was no longer dense enough to sink. The meridional overturning circulation likely ground to a stop. Called the Younger Dryas, this one thousand year period saw the temporary return of the ice age.

      We may soon face a similar although far less drastic situation. Scientists are predicting that rising temperatures will melt the Greenland ice sheet. Models suggest that the resulting influx of fresh melt water into the polar sea could weaken the meridional overturning circulation, although not as drastically as the events thought to have triggered the Younger Dryas period. Still it could slow enough to reduce the flow of warm tropical water north into the polar seas. Temperatures over northwestern Europe could drop as much five degrees Celsius.


      • WeTheBleeple 8.1.1

        Also, the cold water is mineral rich and as it upwells on continental shelves and shores it creates oceanic food chains.

        Whales do some mixing and fertilising of waters, but they too rely on (and some follow) the food chains produced by the conveyor current.

        • Stuart Munro.

          There are a couple of other effects of warmer water too – the ability of water to retain dissolved oxygen falls off rapidly as it warms, which limits marine life density – it was this consequent decline in marine life that pointed out the El Nino part of the southern oscillation to traditional Latin fishermen. The toxicity of dissolved nitrates and ammonia compounds also rises dramatically with water temperature – leaks or discharges of dairy effluent for example, are likely to become even less desirable, and things like salmon farm density and stocking rates may have to be reviewed.

      • Brigid 8.1.2

        There's an anomaly that I wonder about.

        The increase of CO2 is making the ocean more acidic, because we're spewing tons into the air by the minute, but as the sea warms (because of greenhouse effect) it expels CO2. So could it be that ocean acidification may not be so much of a threat? Or is it cyclic? – ocean absorbs CO2, then expels it, but then reabsorbs and so both the ocean and atmosphere become overladen because we keep on spewing CO2 into the atmosphere.

        • lprent

          Several different parts of the issue.

          Firstly, acidification of the oceans isn’t a new issue. Changes in pH happen every time that we get decent climate shifts – and that usually happens frequently within 100’s of thousands of years. Similarly with temperatures, O2 levels, SO4 levels, sediment levels and the numerous other factors that all pour into the oceans over geological time.

          So damn near every species carries genes to deal with most of these changes already (except for really recently evolved species – like humans). Generally what you’d expect to see is that there are shifts in the domains that particular species cover. The changes in acidity will mostly impact species that depend on calcite shells until there is a really significant shift. Same as every other time that the oceans got mores acidic.

          Effectively what happens between the oceans and the atmosphere is that they move towards a steady state in time periods measured over hundreds of years. The ocean conveyors take between many decades and hundreds of years to move CO2 captured in the polar regions where it is colder and into the warmer tropics where it is mostly released back into the atmosphere.

          So what is happening at present is that well more than 90% of all fossil CO2 released into the atmosphere has gone into the deep ocean currents and most probably hasn’t been released yet. Something to look forward to? The only reason that we are able to see a CO2 increase at present is because we have already exceeded the oceans ability to suck it up faster than we are spewing it out of underground oils and gas sequestration.

          But you also need to be aware that oceans have far more CO2 in them than the atmosphere has by weight. The atmosphere is tiny in density compared to water and the same applies to its ability to concentrate CO2.

  8. johnm 9

    N.H. Like GM believes from the exponential climate disruption he is witnessing that our days as a species on this once beautiful and teeming with life Planet are now very limited. The immense sadness is we’ve destroyed what is possibly the most unique biosphere in this Galaxy, we’ll never know. And all we can do is distract ourselves and waffle on endlessly.As GM says we’re functionally extinct our habitat is disappearing: the vanishing face of Gaia.

    Kevin and Guy were joined by meteorologist Nick Humphrey for this pre-recorded show. We discussed the links between climate change, weather, and crop failures. You can support Nick via his Patreon page.


    • Robert Guyton 9.1

      john – your view is bleak and well-earned, it seems; you've done plenty of searching for the truth of the matter and ways to circumnavigate what you've come to believe. I reckon you're close, but missing some pieces of the puzzle. You say:

      "And all we can do is distract ourselves and waffle on endlessly." which is where I find myself disagreeing with you though I'm not going to talk you around, as that approach isn't going to reach you, I reckon. All I can do, as someone who's watched the same degradation you have, is say that I've come to a different conclusion than you and am not despairing; in fact, far from distracting myself from reality, I'm searching for signs of a pathway through, for all of us. How's that for waffle! smiley

    • WeTheBleeple 9.2

      If GM (GM is not a name, we don't know who these people are) says we're functionally extinct he doesn't know what he's talking about. What specifically is our ecosystem function? If it is to create desert we're doing bloody well.

      The founder of the site Gary Null sells a line of 'natural supplements' and is an anti-vax quack.

      There is a lot of this: where fringe types are jumping on the bandwagon using climate change denial to try justify all the other horseshit they trade in. The speakers just rehash news articles and scientific views we've all heard before. Commentary on cat posting and other forms of distraction ho hum.

      One of them had his ‘road to Damascus’ moment during a hurricane. A localised event. not the science data… nooo, cos science is all a conspiracy to silence their truth unless it aligns with their opinions!

      • In Vino 9.2.1

        WTB – I think GM refers to Guy McPherson. Google him if you don't already know..

        • WeTheBleeple


          Interesting character. Nut or seer? Bit of both methinks.

          Ecology’s a good background to start a Doomsday Cult of late.

  9. johnm 11

    'Canary in the Coal Mine': Experts Warn of Climate Tipping Point as Scientists Find Permafrost Thawing 70 Years Ahead of Schedule

    "It's very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region."


    The scientists found the change as they visited the Arctic region. According to Reuters:

    Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.

    The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks—waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

  10. johnm 13

    “Day Zero” has arrived for 100 million Indian people as reservoirs dry up and people queue in long lines with temperatures of more than 50 deg C 122 deg F


  11. Exkiwiforces 14

    Here’s an interesting article when they compared a Cold War Spy pic’s from the 1970’s to the present day in the Himalayas which is also known as the third pole due to the amount of ice in the Himalayas.


    Here another one on the Himalayas Climate


  12. Velcro 15

    Before everyone gets too excited, one must point out that the huge Jacobshavn glacier, and several other major Greenland glaciers draining the ice cap have, in the past few years, stopped shrinking and are now expanding. In the case of the Jacobshavn for the last three years. The amount of ice lost from the Greenland ice cap in the last two decades is a trivial fraction of 1% of the total mass; and as the similar shrinkage of the 20's-30's shows, can readily reverse. Similarly, although it does not affect sea level, the Arctic sea ice minimum was at its smallest extent in 2012, with its area at the annual minimum every year since being approximately 1/3 greater. The global tide gauge reference set sea level rise is steady at 1.8mm per year, as it has been for the past century ( that also applies to NZ). The satellite sea level data measures something rather different, its 'apples and pears' to the tide gauge data, and should not be linked directly onto it.

  13. Velcro 16

    Well what do you know! 2012 was the lowest Arctic sea minimum.

    2016 was the lowest since then, about 1/3 greater.

    Eat your words, RedLogix


    • WeTheBleeple 16.1

      Moderators might want to can the links containing viruses and dangerous content from Velcro's 'contributions'.

      • Velcro 16.1.1

        No viruses. Just factual information, presented in easy to assimilate graphical form. Although it would seem as if factual information is like a deadly virus to WTB. Perhaps WTB’s plea to the moderator would be better applied to himself, since he is the one who appears to be trying, by means of misrepresentation and slur, to suppress information which does not tally with his own preconceptions.

    • RedLogix 16.2

      with its area at the annual minimum every year since being approximately 1/3 greater.

      Picking 2016 as the one single year that was higher is blatant cherry picking and total dishonest as usual. 2017 was almost as low as 2012 and 2019 is on track to another very low year.


  14. Velcro 17

    Sorry RedLogix, the JAXA link I gave clearly states and shows that 2016 was the second lowest year after 2012. That is, all years subsequent to 2012 are higher than 2016, which itself was ~30% higher than 2012 (which we seem to agree was the lowest). Before slinging around unwarranted charges of dishonesty, it might help in future if you actually looked at the information provided first.

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