Quantcast

'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland

Climate
The Eqip Sermia Glacier is seen behind a moraine left exposed by the glacier's retreat during unseasonably warm weather on Aug. 1 at Eqip Sermia, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This article includes a quote from Josh Willis, NASA oceanographer: "There is enough ice in Greenland to raise the sea levels by 7.5 meters, that's about 25 feet, an enormous volume of ice, and that would be devastating to coastlines all around the planet," said Josh Willis, a NASA oceanographer, to CNN. "We should be retreating already from the coastline if we are looking at many meters [lost] in the next century or two." In 2019, a NASA study found, "In the scenario with no reduction of emissions, the study found that the entire Greenland Ice Sheet will likely melt in a millennium, causing 17 to 23 feet of sea level rise." That report also states, "In the next 200 years, the ice sheet model shows that melting at the present rate could contribute up to 63 inches to global sea level rise, said the team led by scientists at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks." It appears Willis's quote is accurate in terms of sea levels rising, but attributed it to a faster timeline than the NASA report.


Andrew Yang's assertion that people move away from the coast at the last Democratic debate is the completely rational and correct choice for NASA scientists in Greenland.

"There is enough ice in Greenland to raise the sea levels by 7.5 meters, that's about 25 feet, an enormous volume of ice, and that would be devastating to coastlines all around the planet," said Josh Willis, a NASA oceanographer, to CNN. "We should be retreating already from the coastline if we are looking at many meters [lost] in the next century or two."


Willis and his research team at NASA's Ocean Melting Greenland have been seeing some alarming patterns as they jet around the island's coastline since heat waves bore down on the U.S. and Europe at the end of July, as CNN reported. Not only is the surface temperature warmer, turning Greenland into a slush-filled mess, but the ocean temperature deep under the water is also rising. The warming water eats away at the foundation of the glaciers, meaning Greenland's massive ice sheet is getting weaker at the top and the bottom, which spells trouble for the entire world.

"Greenland has impacts all around the planet. A billion tons of ice lost here raises sea levels in Australia, in Southeast Asia, in the United States, in Europe," said Willis to CNN. "We are all connected by the same ocean."

The scientists looking at the ice and waters found a large opening of water near Helheim glacier, a huge 4-mile glacier on Greenland's east coast, that had warm water along its entire depth, more than 2,000 feet below the surface, as CNN reported.

"It's very rare anywhere on the planet to see 700 meters of no temperature variation, normally we find colder waters in the upper hundred meters or so, but right in front of the glacier it's warm all the way up," said Ian Fenty, a climate scientist at NASA, to CNN. "These warm waters now are able to be in direct contact with the ice over its entire face, supercharging the melting."

Helheim has made news the past two summers. Two years ago it lost a huge 2-mile piece. Last summer a chunk the size of lower Manhattan broke off and was captured on video, as National Geographic reported.

This year the glacier has continued to melt.

"It retreats by many meters per day, it's tens of meters per day. You can probably set your iPhone on timelapse and actually see it go by," said Willis to CNN.

The ice in Greenland started the summer weak. There was little snowfall this past winter to reinforce the ice or to absorb the sunlight in the peak of summer, when the sun never fully goes down. Fresh snow stays bright and reflective, which bounces away solar radiation. Older snow is less reflective and absorbs the sun's heat. When the first heat wave hit in June, 45 percent of Greenland's ice sheet was ready to melt, according to National Geographic.

Arctic ice like Greenland's is also vital to removing carbon from the atmosphere, according to a study in the journal Polar Biology. The calcium carbonate crystals that make up sea ice trap carbon dioxide in a cold brine. When the sea ice melts, it drops that carbon dioxide into the ocean where it binds to algae, which stops it from circulating around the atmosphere.

As sea ice decreases, less carbon will be removed from the atmosphere. Plus, the melting ice will raise sea levels. Glaciers like Helheim are big enough to make global sea levels rise by one millimeter in just one month, which concerns scientists, as CNN reported.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less