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European Heat Wave Threatens to Accelerate Ice Melt in Greenland, Warn Climate Scientists

100 metric gigatons contribute to about 0.28 millimeters (0.01 inches) of global sea level rise

As Europe’s record-breaking heat wave drifts toward the Arctic, it threatens to accelerate the melting of ice in Greenland, which already started earlier than normal this year, climate scientists warned Saturday.

After breaking records over Europe, the heat wave has swept over Scandinavia and is predicted to move toward Greenland, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

“As it is forecast to move over the Arctic it will potentially bring a large amount of energy that will melt ice, both sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and the ice sheet surface over the next 3 to 5 days,” Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist with the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), told AFP.

greenland, arctic
Arctic permafrost is melting decades earlier than even worst-case scenarios, he said, threatening to unlock vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas. VOA

Early, warm melting season

That heat will add to a summer where the melting season started early and “persistent warm conditions have led to a very large loss of ice.” According to DMI’s models an estimated 170 metric gigatons of water have been added to the world’s oceans from melted ice and snow between July 1 to July 26.

100 metric gigatons contribute to about 0.28 millimeters (0.01 inches) of global sea level rise. The expected average would be about 60 to 80 metric gigatons of ice over the same period.

“So we’re well over what we would normally have,” Mottram said, emphasizing that the rate of melting can vary greatly from one year to the next.

Summer 2012 set record

There are fears that this year’s ice melt in Greenland could approach the record level set in 2012. In “2012 summer conditions were even more extreme and for several days there was quite intense melt all the way to the summit of the ice sheet at 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above sea level,” Mottram said.

greenland, arctic
Researchers have found that the island’s ice sheet lost more than two gigatonnes (a gigaton is equal to one billion tonnes) of ice due to a widespread melting event. Pixabay

A similar melting event has not been observed this year so far, but with the heat wave approaching Greenland there could be a repeat.

ALSO READ: Nordic Countries Record ‘Tropical Nights’ as European Heat Wave Moves North

Although the melting has been persistent this year, with relatively high temperatures day after day, “though within the normal range,” it is still unlike 2012 when melting was much more driven by “several very extreme melting days,” according to Mottram.

But Mottram also noted that higher than average melting coincides with a trend of “increasing melt rates over the last two decades.” Melting ice in Greenland is also quite closely linked to global temperatures, meaning that as global temperatures rise, “we expect more melting to occur.” (VOA)

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