Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Warmer Current Is Carving Away Greenland Ice Sheet From Below, Scientists Find

Science
Grounded icebergs seen in Northeast Greenland, Polar regions, the region of the 79 North Glacier studied by scientists to find warm ocean currents beneath are carving away the ice sheet. Michael Nolan / robertharding / Getty Images

The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than ever recorded in modern history. New research finds that the world's second-largest ice deposit is not just melting from the surface but from below as well, which adds a new twist to consider when predicting global sea level rise.


The Arctic ice sheet stores large quantities of frozen water extending 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles) long, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In recent years it has seen unprecedented melting — seven times faster today than in the 1990s — that is likely to be intensified by the climate crisis. Scientists estimate that if the Greenland Ice Sheet completely melted, sea levels would rise by about 20 feet.

Researchers have long known that surface melt occurs from exposure to the sun and rising temperatures, but Arctic scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany have now determined that an underwater current of warmer water is carving a destructive path below the surface.

To come to their findings, the team took to the 79 North Glacier, a 50-mile-long "tongue" of floating ice that has slid into the ocean and floats on the surface while remaining connected to the land ice. In the last two decades the 79 North Glacier has seen dramatic loss of both its mass and thickness. The first-ever extensive ship-based survey of the ocean floor revealed an underwater current more than a mile-wide arriving from the Atlantic Ocean, bringing heat into contact with the glacier to accelerate its melting.

"The reason for the intensified melting is now clear," researcher Janin Schaffer said, according to EurekAlert!. "Because the warm water current is larger, substantially more warmth now makes its way under the ice tongue, second for second."

Schaffer and her team also found what is known as a bathymetric sill, which acts as a dam to water flowing over the seafloor. As water builds up against this barrier, it grows until eventually rushing over and coming into contact with the tongue, further melting the ice from below.

"The readings indicate that here, too, a bathymetric sill near the seafloor accelerates warm water toward the glacier. Apparently, the intensive melting on the underside of the ice at several sites throughout Greenland is largely produced by the form of the seafloor,"Schaffer said.

Writing in Nature Geoscience, the study authors add that similar effects were seen at other parts of the Greenland Ice Sheet as well. The researchers say that their findings may help to more accurately gauge the total amount of meltwater lost from the ice sheet each year.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Brian Sims ranted in a Facebook Live video that went viral about the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers who are pushing to reopen the state even though one of their members had a positive COVID-19 test. Brian Sims / Facebook

Brian Sims, a Democratic representative in the Pennsylvania legislature, ranted in a Facebook Live video that went viral about the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers who are pushing to reopen the state even though one of their members had a positive COVID-19 test.

Read More Show Less
Wolf pups with their mother at their den site. Design Pics / Getty Images

In another reversal of Obama-era regulations, the Trump administration is having the National Park Service rescind a 2015 order that protected bears and wolves within protected lands.

Read More Show Less
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says this is a historic step for the group. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP / Getty Images

By Linda Lacina

World Health Organization officials today announced the launch of the WHO Foundation, a legally separate body that will help expand the agency's donor base and allow it to take donations from the general public.

Read More Show Less
Because of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, in-person sessions are less possible. Merlas / Getty Images

By Nicholas Joyce

The coronavirus has resulted in stress, anxiety and fear – symptoms that might motivate a person to see a therapist. Because of social distancing, however, in-person sessions are less possible. For many, this has raised the prospect of online therapy. For clients in need of warmth and reassurance, could this work? Studies and my experience suggests it does.

Read More Show Less
A 17-year periodical cicada. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As many parts of the planet continue to open their doors after pandemic closures, a new pest is expected to make its way into the world. After spending more than a decade underground, millions of cicadas are expected to emerge in regions of the southeastern U.S.

Read More Show Less
"Most of this fossil fuel finance flowed to wealthier countries," the report says, noting that China (pictured), Canada, Japan, and Korea provided the most public finance for dirty energy projects from 2016 to 2018.
Kevin Frayer / Stringer / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Even after the world's largest economies adopted the landmark Paris agreement to tackle the climate crisis in late 2015, governments continued to pour $77 billion a year in public finance into propping up the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Wednesday.

Read More Show Less

Trending

An aerial view shows new vehicles that were offloaded from ships at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics on April 26, 2020 in Wilmington, California. "Vehicles are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in America," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. David McNew / Getty Images

Twenty-three states and Washington, DC launched a suit Wednesday to stop the Trump administration rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.

Read More Show Less