Story at a glance

  • A historic heat wave in July gave way to an ice melt in Greenland large enough to cover an entire state with roughly two inches of water.
  • Greenland’s 656,000 square miles of ice plays a pivotal role in protecting much of the world’s freshwater ice supply.
  • But recent extreme heat, according to Polar Portal, a site run by Danish research institutions, is causing a "massive melting event."

A historic heat wave in July gave way to an ice melt in Greenland large enough to cover an entire state with roughly two inches of water, scientists say. 

Greenland’s 656,000 square miles of ice play a pivotal role in protecting much of the world’s freshwater ice supply. But recent extreme heat, according to Polar Portal, a site run by Danish research institutions, is causing a "massive melting event," AccuWeather reported. This is the second consecutive year in which scientists recorded massive ice loss. The ice melting daily at the end of July 2021 was enough to flood the entire state of Florida. 

The typical melting season in Greenland runs from June to August, and already in 2021, the island had lost 100 billion tons of ice as of July, according to The Guardian

"It's quite an interesting melt event, though," Ruth Mottram, climate scientist at Danish Meteorological Institute, told AccuWeather. "I think it is worth pointing out that prior to this recent heat wave, the mass budget of the ice sheet had been above average due to the large amount of snow that fell in early summer."

Mottram explained to the outlet the detrimental effects heavy rainfall can add to an already serious ice melt — typically, she said, rainfall adds additional layers to an ice sheet. 

"The rain that falls on the ice sheet can refreeze if there is a deep surface snow pack so it actually helps the ice sheet gain ice," she told AccuWeather. 

"But in other regions, where the snow is thin, rain can accelerate melt and can have an effect on ice sheet dynamics,” she continued, further explaining that melting at high elevations does not always add to rising sea levels. 


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"The melt event was unusual not just in total amounts but because it was very widespread with large amounts of surface melt at quite high altitudes over the ice sheet," Mottram added. "Ice cores show that these widespread melt events were really rare prior to the 21st century, but since then, we have had several melt seasons."

Brad Lipovsky, a glaciologist at the University of Washington, told The Guardian he is not sure whether 2021’s melt will represent a record-setting year, although the warm weather is “causing an amazing amount of melt.” 

“The alarming thing to me is the political response, or lack of it,” he said. “Sea-level rise is like a slow-moving train, but once it gets rolling you can’t stop it. It’s not great news.”


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Marco Tedesco, a glacier expert at Columbia University and adjunct scientist at NASA, told The Guardian that the “high level of melting ... will probably change the face of Greenland” and accelerate rising sea levels. But he said the way forward is clear. 

“It’s very worrisome,” said Tedesco. “The action is clear – we need to get to net zero emissions but also we need to protect exposed populations along the coast. This is going to be a huge problem for our coastal cities.”


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Published on Aug 09, 2021