Energy & Environment

Greenland ice sheet will melt at fastest rate in 12,000 years this century

The findings put the world on pace for the worst-case sea-level rise scenario predicted by climate models, threatening hundreds of millions of people with flooding earlier than hoped.

Greenland’s ice sheet will melt at its fastest rate in 12,000 years this century, a new study projects. 

The study, published in the journal Nature, said the melt rate of the ice sheet between 2000 and 2018 was about 6,100 gigatons tons per century — a similar rate to that of the pre-industrial Holocene era, when the melt rate was up to 6,000 gigatons tons per century. 

But, researchers estimate that the rate over the course of the 21st century will be between 8,000 gigatons and 35,900 gigatons tons per century, nearly six times faster than the early-Holocene era rate. A gigaton is equal to 1 billion tons. 

They attribute their projected increase to climate change, writing that “climate is projected to become increasingly unfavourable for maintaining even the current levels of [Greenland ice sheet] mass balance.”

The researchers add that the ice lost from the sheet this century will be “unprecedented” in the context of the past 12,000 years unless the world has low carbon emissions. They also warned that this could cause increasing sea-level rise. 

“This provides further evidence that low carbon emissions are critical to mitigate contributions of the [Greenland ice sheet] to sea-level rise,” the study said. 

The study adds to a growing body of research indicating that Greenland’s ice sheet melt is accelerating. A study from last year found that the rate of Greenland’s ice sheet loss has significantly increased since the 1990s and an analysis from last month determined that the ice sheet lost a record amount of ice last year. 

Melting from the ice sheet contributes to rising sea levels, which can result in flooding and harm coastal ecosystems.

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