Nowhere on Earth is safe from the effects of climate change, but Greenland gets it particularly bad. Warmer temperatures disproportionately affect the Arctic, and ice-filled Greenland is especially vulnerable. New research finds that warming has caused Greenland to lose ice more quickly today than at any point over the last 350 years.
Previous studies have measured just how much the island’s ice is melting and even spotted melting in the typically robust northern sea ice. All the science agrees: Greenland is warming and its ice is disappearing. But this new study puts that warming and melting into context, by looking at the island’s history.
The researchers drilled deep holes into Greenland’s ice and used those to extract samples of ice from hundreds of feet below the surface. With those samples, the researchers were able to create a timeline of Greenland’s ice cover going back 350 years. As part of that timeline, the researchers calculated how much ice melted in Greenland every year.
Typically, ice on Greenland melts during the summer months and then accumulates in the winter. Ideally, both of those amounts would be equal, so Greenland doesn’t gain or lose very much ice in a typical year. But lately, ice has been melting faster in the summer than it has in the past, and warmer winter temperatures mean the island is slower to build new ice.
The end result, according to the study, is that over the past two decades Greenland has been losing ice more quickly than it has in centuries. More than just that, the rate at which the island is losing ice has been accelerating. This suggests that over the next few decades, Greenland will lose ice even faster than it is right now. If that’s true, the Arctic—and the entire planet—is in serious trouble.