Greenland’s ice sheet melting faster than previously believed

The warm summers between 2006 and 2009 set off a self-reinforcing chain reaction

The ice sheet in northern Greenland is melting and moving into the ocean thereby adding billions of tonnes of melting water to the world’s already rising ocean levels.

Researchers from Denmark’s Technical University (DTU), the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University have documented that the outlet glacier in northeast Greenland, stretching from the inland ice sheet to the sea, has been moving towards the sea since 2006.

“It’s very surprising that the northeast outlet glacier is moving. We haven’t accounted for its contribution in our models concerning the impact that the ice sheet will have on the global ocean levels,” Shfaqat Abbas Khan, a researcher from DTU told the Videnskab.dk website.

“Obviously, the new knowledge means that the water levels are rising quicker than we thought.”

The outlet glacier in northeast Greenland stretches a staggering 600-700 kilometres inland across the ice sheet and is by far the largest outlet glacier in Greenland.

READ MORE: Greenland cleaning up its act

Influences ocean level calculations
The new research findings have just been published in the science journal Nature Climate Change, and the researchers contended that there was nothing that can be done to stop the melting of the glacier.

“The warm summers between 2006 and 2009 set off a self-reinforcing chain reaction,"  Kurt Kjær, a professor at the The Natural History Museum of Denmark and co-author of the findings, told Videnskab.dk. 

"The more of the outlet glacier that flows into the sea, the thinner it becomes. And the thinner the outlet glacier becomes the quicker it moves towards the sea.”

The movement of the outlet glacier in northeast Greenland will have considerable ramifications for the models that calculate how much the ice sheet affect the rising ocean levels.

Until now, the models have only taken into account the three outlet glaciers in Jakobshavn and the northwest and southeast of Greenland. But the northeast glacier outlet will contributes an additional 16 percent of melting ice sheet into the equation.