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Unusually warm weather has led to a spike in the steadily rising melt rate of Greenland’s ice sheet, leaving scientists alarmed by temperatures that ran 5°C higher than normal for July.
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“It definitely worries me,” said Kutalmis Saylam, a University of Texas scientist who is currently stationed in Greenland. “Yesterday we could wander around in our t-shirts—that was not really expected.”
In the three-day span from July 15 to 17, around 5.5 billion tonnes of ice sheet melted per day—making enough water to fill 7.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, or flood an area the size of West Virginia with one foot of water, reports CNN. At 15.5°C, temperatures were 5.5°C higher than average for that time of the year, sending rivers of melted freshwater rushing into the ocean.
“The northern melt this past week is not normal, looking at 30 to 40 years of climate averages,” said Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center. “But melting has been on the increase, and this event was a spike in melt.”
Water trickling down from the ice sheet’s surface is concerning for scientists, who say it could destabilize the sheet above and lead to even more rapid melting. Greenland’s ice sheet has enough water to raise sea levels by 7.5 metres, CNN says, and in July 2019, a record-setting heat wave in the region increased global sea levels by 1.5 millimetres.
Melt rates are now the most severe in the last 12,000 years, and studies show that no matter how much humans can limit global warming, Greenland’s ice sheet has melted beyond a point of no return. It is now inevitable that, one day, the entire ice sheet will disintegrate, CNN reports.
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