Greenland holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 25 feet, a prospect that’s becoming more likely as the planet warms with each passing year.
In fact, the country’s massive ice sheets are melting twice as fast as they were just a decade ago, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new report is the most comprehensive analysis of the ice sheets ever conducted, covering 46 years of data. Already, Greenland has lost 4,976 gigatons of water since 1972, enough water to fill 16 trillion bathtubs, the Atlantic notes.
The researchers used a range of novel techniques to better understand the ice sheet’s evolution, including relying on the US Geological Survey’s Landsat satellites that have been circling the planet since 1972. The team also took advantage of NASA’s long-term analysis of Greenland through its Ocean Melting Project (OMG).
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Greenland has been shrinking during the summer months for decades, but the report also adds that the country hasn’t developed any new mass since 1998, suggesting that even the cold season has become too warm.
Researchers are worried that the Greenland is entering a feedback loop that will further accelerate ice melt. As the ice turns to water, it absorbs more sunlight and transfers more heat to the ice, causing more melt. Greenland features massive ice rivers that carry water out to the ocean, and the new report found that these rivers are becoming faster.
“The glaciers are still being pushed out of balance,” Eric Rignot, a senior scientist at NASA and an author of the paper, told the Atlantic. “Even though the ice sheet has [sometimes] been extremely cold and had low surface melt in the last year, the glaciers are still speeding up, and the ice sheet is still losing mass.”
Climate change is causing the world’s glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate. As this happens, rising sea levels will flood coastlines, storms will become more powerful, marine species will be forced to migrate, and the salinity of the oceans will change.
The only way to slow and even reverse this decline is to stop the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. But even drastic action to curb global warming might not be enough to prevent the decline of the ice sheets because there’s enough carbon, methane, and other gases in the atmosphere to continue raising global temperatures for decades to come.
Further, the world’s frozen areas often sit on top of vast stores of greenhouse gases like methane that could significantly increase global warming if ever released.