A Ph.D. student at the University of Washington looks at a meltwater stream on the Glacial Ice Sheet, Greenland.
Greenland’s ice sheet experienced record melting last year that was driven by hotter temperatures and more frequent atmospheric circulation patterns triggered by climate change, scientists have confirmed.
The stark findings show that researchers could also be underestimating future melting by about half, as most models that project future ice loss do not account for impacts from changing atmospheric circulation patterns, according to the study led by Marco Tedesco, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Greenland’s ice sheet experienced the largest outright drop in “surface mass” — or how much mass is lost due to melting compared to mass gained from snowfall — since record-keeping began in 1948, according to the study published in The Cryosphere.
Researchers warn that climate change will make the destructive high-pressure atmospheric conditions more common in Greenland, the biggest contributor to global sea level rise.
“Simulations of future impacts are very likely underestimating the mass loss due to climate change,” said Tedesco. “It’s almost like missing half of the melting.”
Greenland lost around 600 billion tons of water in 2019, contributing to a sea level rise of about 1.5 millimeters.
Greenland’s ice sheet is the second biggest in the world and covers 80% of the island. If the ice sheet were to melt away completely, global sea levels could rise by as much as 23 feet, raising serious concerns for coastal communities across the world.
Global sea levels will rise 2 to 6 feet by 2100 on the current trajectory, according to satellite data. However, scientists warn that the projections underestimate the climate change impact on sea level rise.
A rise in sea levels could destroy property value in coastal regions, displace residents and eventually impact global markets. Coastal residents represent 40% of total the total U.S. population and $7.9 trillion in gross domestic product, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Water is seen on part of the glacial ice sheet that covers about 80 percent of the country on the Glacial Ice Sheet, Greenland.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images