Greenland’s vast ice sheets cover most of the world’s biggest island, locking up enough water to raise sea levels by 7.42m worldwide.
But just as wildfires have gripped Europe and annual droughts have struck parts of the United States, the recent July heatwave in the northern hemisphere is having an impact on the Arctic outpost too.
A series of warm days has meant 6 gigatons of water (6 billion tons) per day being released into the ocean.
Greenland is host to 3 million gigatons worth of water in its ancient ice, which began to form 3 million years ago. In that context, 6 gigatons may not seem a large quantity, but it’s part of a trend of increased melt that’s worrying scientists.
This year’s July melt is well above average levels, and it echoes some of the previous worst years, including 2012 and 2019.
The island has warmed by 0.9C per decade, with surface melt leaking through the ice sheet and contributing to melt of the mass of the ice below.
Both of the world’s largest land-based ice sheets, in Greenland and Antarctica, are on course for “worst-case scenario”.
“If ice sheet losses continue to track our worst-case climate warming scenarios, we should expect an additional 17cm of sea-level rise from the ice sheets alone. That’s enough to double the frequency of storm-surge flooding in many of the world’s largest coastal cities,” Dr Anna Hogg of the University of Leeds, one of the study’s co-authors, warned in a statement.
Meanwhile, habitat loss is causing problems for polar bears and the human communities they are increasingly coming into contact with.
Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals. But with the Arctic warming four times faster than the rest of the world, sea ice is melting out earlier in the summer and freezing up later in the autumn. This forces bears to spend more time ashore, away from their natural prey.