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Greenland Is Melting

If all the ice covering the world’s largest island were to thaw, sea levels would rise roughly 6 meters

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FILE - An iceberg is seen melting off the coast of Ammasalik, Greenland, July 19, 2007. VOA
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  • Greenland is slowly melting
  • This melting adds roughly 1 millimetre of water per year to global sea levels
  • This can mean huge floods in coming years

Like a bowling ball on a skating rink, the black geodesic sphere of the East Greenland Ice-Core Project’s communal living space stands out against the endless white nothingness of the Greenland ice sheet.

 

Iceberg melting can cause huge floods in coming years.
Iceberg melting can cause huge floods in coming years.

But the real action at East GRIP is under the surface. Researchers are drilling through more than 2.5 kilometres of ice, down to the bedrock below. The ice is sliding fast — for a glacier — toward the sea. Scientists here want to know why. The answer may hold clues to the future of the world’s coastal cities.

Greenland is melting. As it melts, it adds roughly 1 millimetre of water per year to global sea levels. And the pace of melting is quickening.

If all the ice covering the world’s largest island were to thaw, sea levels would rise roughly 6 meters. Scientists don’t know how fast, or how likely, that is to happen. East GRIP is looking for evidence to inform both those questions.

The answers are a matter of growing urgency. The seas are rising faster. And the same processes at work on Greenland’s glaciers at the top of the world could send vast sections of Antarctica’s ice sheet into the sea as well, raising ocean levels even further.

Melting of icebergs is increasing sea levels every year. VOA
Melting of icebergs is increasing sea levels every year. VOA

Also Read: Earth was like Mars? Experts find fossils in Greenland dating back to 3.7 Billion Years

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Scientists studying the rapid changes gather in the small Greenland town of Kangerlussuaq, a former U.S. military base built during World War II. Through the Cold War, this outpost supplied remote radar sites watching a nuclear attack coming over the pole.

These days, military transport planes fly scientists and their equipment across 1,000 kilometres of Arctic ice to East GRIP. They make research possible here and at other far-flung scientific outposts on the vast Greenland ice sheet.

Departing from Kangerlussuaq, VOA visited East GRIP and other remote corners of Greenland with the 109th Airlift Wing of the U.S. Air National Guard for a firsthand look at science in action at the leading edge of climate change. VOA

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Use Every Resources To Help in Climate Change: Scientists

Individuals and civic groups have a big role to play in pushing governments to tackle climate threats.

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Climate change, Australia
The coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation's top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Juliette, Georgia. VOA

Last-ditch efforts to hold climate change to the most ambitious target set by governments will likely require using every available technique rather than picking and choosing the most attractive ones, climate scientists said on Monday.

Dramatically reducing the use of coal, planting huge swaths of land with carbon-absorbing forest or powering most transport with electricity are no longer sufficient to bring about the swift transition needed, they said, with warming expected to pass the 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) mark in as little as 12 years.

“We can make choices about how much of each option to choose, but the idea you can leave anything out is impossible,” said Jim Skea, who jointly led a major scientific report analyzing the feasibility of holding global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, the most ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, requested by governments, was issued ahead of a U.N. conference in December in Poland that will consider how to increase country ambitions to cut emissions and manage climate risks better.

Current government commitments to curb climate change under the Paris pact, even if fully met, would still leave the world on track for about 3 degrees of warming, scientists said.

Climate change
Waves from Hurricane Florence pound the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, N.C. VOA

To have a chance of meeting the 1.5 degrees goal, climate-changing emissions would have to plunge 45 percent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, the report said.

As that would be an “unprecedented” rate of decline, it is more likely the world will overshoot the target, then try to return to it by sucking carbon from the air, scientists said.

Such “carbon removal” might happen by developing better technology to take out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – now an extremely expensive process – or by planting many more forests that could be harvested and burned for energy, with emissions pumped into underground storage.

“We have not identified any pathways that get to 1.5 degrees Celsius without some kind of carbon dioxide removal,” Skea said.

But turning over much more land for energy production “could have implications for food security, ecosystems and biodiversity,” the British scientist warned, as competition for land grows.

Climate change
Traffic moves as smoke emits from the chimney of a factory on the outskirts of Gauhati, India. VOA

All on board

Swiftly reducing emissions – even with carbon removal – will also require unprecedented levels of international cooperation, a particular challenge as some national governments, like that in the United States, look increasingly inward.

Making the needed emissions changes “is within the scope of what humans can achieve”, said Hans-Otto Portner, a German climate scientist and IPCC report co-chair.

But success “depends on political leadership,” he added.

Henri Waisman, a senior researcher at Paris-based think tank IDDRI and one of 91 report authors, said the report’s aim was to set out the types of transformation required as clearly as possible to inform discussions at U.N. climate talks and beyond.

Delaying action on climate change “is something that is explicitly contradicted in the report,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Climate change
Climate Change Fuels California Fires. Flickr

If governments fail to ramp up their ambition to reduce heat-trapping emissions over the next two years, they will have consciously abandoned the 1.5 degree goal, he added.

Action in cities – which consume more than two-thirds of energy globally and account for about three-quarters of carbon emissions – are pivotal to meeting the target, said report author William Solecki, a professor at Hunter College-City University of New York.

That’s particularly true because most population growth in coming years “is going to be in urban areas – a lot of it particularly in small and medium-sized cities … in the global south,” he said.

Those cities will need more support to develop cleanly, prevent disasters and adapt to climate shifts, he added.

Climate change
The connection between Antarctic Volcanic Eruptions and abrupt Climate Change. Pixabay

The scientists said the report was intended to guide more than just governments, however, and that action by everyone – including individuals and businesses – would be required to hold the line on climate change.

“There’s a lot we can do individually or within our communities,” said Debora Ley, a report author who works on adaptation and renewable energy in Latin America.

Also Read: UN IPCC Will Meet To Consider On A Global Warming Impact Report

Personal changes might include everything from eating less meat to using energy-efficient appliances and reducing air travel, said Patricia Pinho, a Brazilian climate scientist and report author.

Individuals and civic groups have a big role to play in pushing governments to tackle climate threats, and are stepping up pressure as recognition of the danger grows, she said.

“We have to live our lives in a way that makes a difference. “Our life on this planet, our kids are at risk,” she said. (VOA)