Climate Change and Greenland Glacial Melt – 5 Alarming Effects

Glacial Melt

Climate Change and Greenland Glacial Melt - 5 Alarming Effects

Climate change refers to long-term fluctuations in climate and weather systems. These shifts could be caused by natural causes, such as variations in the solar cycle.

However, since the 1800s, human impacts have been the primary cause of global warming and climate change, owing primarily to the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas.

Global ice cover and glaciers are threatened by this rise in the Earth’s temperature ever since. Thus, climate change and glacial melt have become the two sides of a coin. Greenland glacial melt is not an exception.

Greenland is white for much of the year, but things are changing. Greenland is currently losing 350 gigatonnes of ice per year, with half of that loss due to ice melt and the other half due to glacial melt into the ocean and splitting up into icebergs, which further melt.

To put this in context, the loss of Greenland ice is six times the volume of all the glaciers in the Alps combined. And, while it is small in comparison to the massive amount of ice remaining in Greenland, it is sufficient to raise global sea level millimeter by millimeter each year. This should worry more than just the glaciologists who are tracking these changes.

Greenland Ice Sheet
Greenland Ice Sheet | Photo Credit: Hannes Grobe

Since 2000, Greenland has melted more mass than it has accumulated, according to glaciologists. That was a watershed moment. In terms of ice volume, scientists have very good measurements from around 1990 to today.

Greenland was in balance from 1990 to 2000, with roughly equal input and output. Snow is the input, and melt and ice that moves into the ocean is the output. But now we are having a negative balance because of Global Warming and Climate Change.

Thousands of scientists and government reviewers accepted in a 2018 UN report that restricting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C would work to prevent the worst impacts of global warming and climate change which will further help in maintaining a livable climate.

Nonetheless, existing global climate plans predict that global warming will reach 2.7°C by the end of the century.

●⫸ Global Warming and Climate Change of The Ocean

▶ The ocean is significant because it covers a large portion of our planet. It covers 70% of the Earth’s surface.

▶ The ocean is home to and a food source for numerous fish, mammals, plants, birds, and other creatures.

▶ The ocean has a significant impact on what happens in our planet’s environment. Even as humans, we would not be able to survive without the ocean!

NASA has discovered that sea levels are rising as the Earth warms. Water expands as it warms. As a result, warm water takes up more space in our oceans, resulting in higher sea levels.

Glacier Melting during July 2012, images created by NASA
Glacier Melting ice during July 2012, images created by NASA

▶ Another reason for the rising sea level is the melting ice on land. The ice of Glacial melts and flows into the oceans as our planet warms. More water in the oceans raises the sea level.

The warming of the ocean has many negative consequences, including rising sea levels, coral bleaching, decreased oxygen levels, algae growth, species moving or dropping dead if they can’t adapt, and shifting currents

1. Sea Level Rise-

Because the earth is warming, sea levels are rising all over the world. The rise is caused by two factors: seawater expands as it warms, and ice sheets and glaciers melt into the ocean.

Glacier Melt _ sea-level increase
Sea levels sneaked up about 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) during the twentieth century. Sea levels are predicted to go up between 18 and 59 cm (7.1 and 23 inches) over the next century, though the increase could be greater if ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt more quickly than predicted. Higher sea levels will erode coastlines and cause more frequent flooding. | Image Source: NASA (Graph ©2007 Robert Rohde.)

The seas have indeed been rising for the past 25 years, but the rate of rise has been increasing. Depending on our actions, the seas might rise anywhere from five inches to ten feet by 2100.

2. Coral Bleaching-

Bleached coral
Bleached branching coral at Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef | Image Source: Wikipedia

Rising ocean temperatures cause coral bleaching by depriving coral reefs of their primary food source, microscopic algae. When the ocean temperature becomes too high for the symbiotic algae that live in coral tissues, they either leave the corals or die, a process known as bleaching.

3. Harmful Algal Blooms-

Scientists have discovered that rising ocean temperatures caused by human-caused climate change have already increased harmful algal blooms (HABs). They occur when nutrient pollution from the land approaches the sea or freshwater, fueling the uncontrolled growth of algae that can deplete all available oxygen.

Algae bloom - water pollution
Dirty water causing green stains of Algae Bloom

4. Shifting Currents-

Climate change and changes in ocean circulation are being linked by scientists. Scientists believe that climate change is slowing ocean circulation in the Atlantic Ocean: evidence suggests that it has slowed by about 15% since the middle of the last century. 

However, scientists studying the entire globe discovered that currents have been speeding up for the last 25 years as a result of global warming and climate change. The main cause is most likely cold freshwater from melting Greenland ice.

●⫸ How Is the Warm Sea Increasing Glacial Retreat?

Greenland’s melting glaciers, which sink into Arctic waters via steep-sided inlets known as fjords, are one of the primary contributors to global sea-level rise as a result of climate change.

Experts with the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) mission have been analyzing these marine-terminating icebergs from the air and by ship for the past five years. They discovered that of the 226 glaciers studied, 74 deep coastlines accounted for nearly half of Greenland’s total ice loss (as previously monitored by satellites) between 1992 and 2017.

Undercutting occurs when a layer of warm, salty found at the bottom of a fjord thaws the base of a glacier, causing the ice above to split apart. The 51 glaciers that stretch into shallow fjords or onto shallow ridges, on the other hand, witnessed the least undercutting and made a significant contribution of only 15% of overall ice loss.

The largest glaciers are the most vulnerable to warming waters, and they are the ones driving Greenland’s ice loss.

In the case of Greenland’s glaciers, the larger the glacier, the faster it melts. And the culprit is the fjord’s depth: deeper fjords allow in much more warm ocean water than shallow fjords, accelerating the undercutting process.

A beautiful view of Ata Sund Fjord in Greenland
A beautiful view of Ata Sund Fjord in Greenland

Greenland has one of the world’s only two ice sheets. In places, the ice is over 2 miles (3 kilometers) thick. The massive glaciers broadening from the ice sheet travel slowly down valleys like icy conveyor belts, pouring into the fjords and then melting or breaking off (or calving) as icebergs. Snowfall that is compressed into the ice pack over time replenishes the ice.

If the ice sheet were in proportion, the amount of snow on top would roughly equal the amount of ice loss due to glacial melt, evaporation, and calving. However, previous observations have revealed that the ice sheet has been out of balance since the 1990s, with melting accelerating and calving increasing.

The main cause of such glacier retreat is the undercutting process, which is influenced by two factors:-

1. The amount of meltwater flowing from the glacier.

2. The warm layer of salty water at the fjord’s bottom

During the summer, rising air temperatures heat the glacier’s surface, causing pools of meltwater to form. These pools of water seep through the ice and flows from the glacier in rivers beneath the surface.

As the meltwater flows into the sea, it comes into contact with the warmer salty water at the fjord’s bottom.

●⫸ Other Causes of Fast Glacial Disappearance

Many people believe that the primary cause is the abrupt and rapid industrialization that has raised global temperatures. Let’s take a closer look at this.

1) The use of fossil fuels:

The combustion of fossil fuels has resulted in the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the environment, which influence the warming trend by trapping heat in the atmosphere. As temperatures rise, more glaciers melt, revealing the earth beneath.

According to research, glaciers can absorb about 20% of the heat from the sun while reflecting the remaining 80%. So exposing the earth changes this because the earth now absorbs the majority of the heat and reflects a smaller percentage of it.

This is a vicious cycle that has already affected most of the world and will be difficult to break if solutions are not implemented as soon as possible.

2) Deforestation:

Trees play a critical role in the ecosystem’s balance and the overall cooling of the planet. Perhaps this is why they are referred to as the planet’s “natural fans.” So, cutting down trees to make more room for human activities is harming the environment’s balance.

Deforestation has numerous negative consequences, including rising sea levels. Furthermore, there is an increase in the emission of co2 while less of it is being absorbed by trees because their numbers are constantly decreasing due to deforestation. As a result, it hastens global warming and climate change. Thus, there is a sea-level rise.

3) Ice Breaking Ships:

During the summer, icebreaking ships travel north into the Arctic Ocean, breaking through the ice at sea and leaving trails of open water. The Arctic Sea ice can reflect the majority of the heat, helping to keep the Arctic and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere cool.

Nonetheless, open water has a lower capacity to reflect sun rays than ice, so the water absorbs more heat. As a result, the water heats up, melting even more ice.

●⫸ Impact of Glacial Melt

Polar ice caps are melting as a result of global warming and climate change. We are losing Arctic sea ice at a rate of nearly 13% per decade, and the earliest known and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a staggering 95% in the last 30 years. Let’s see the impacts of these glacial losses:-

1) Weather Conditions:

The Arctic and Antarctic regions serve as the world’s refrigerators. They balance out other parts of the world that absorb heat because they are covered in white snow and ice that reflect heat into space. Minimal ice means less reflected heat, which means more intense heat waves around the world. However, it also means harsher winters.

2) Coastal Settlements:

Since 1900, the average global sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches, and the situation is deteriorating. Rising sea levels harm coastal cities and small island countries by aggravating coastal flooding and severe storms, intensifying hazardous weather events.

The Greenland ice sheet’s glacial melt is a major indicator of future sea-level rise; if it melts completely, global sea levels could rise by 20 feet.

3) Food:

Increased heat waves and weather unpredictability caused by ice loss are already wreaking havoc on crops that are critical to global food systems. This insecurity will make things more expensive for you and worsen crises for the world’s most vulnerable people.

4) Shipping:

As the glacial melt, new shipping lanes emerge. These corridors will be tempting time savers, but they will also be extremely dangerous. Consider the possibility of more sunken ships or spillages.

5) Wildlife:

When Sea ice disappears, animals that rely on it for continued existence must adapt or starve to death. Polar bears, penguins, arctic foxes, snowy owls, reindeer, and many other species are threatened by ice loss and thawing permafrost. In the same way that they are affected, so are the other species that rely on them.

◆ Conclusion:

There are no ways to convey how much and how quickly the ice is shifting. Researchers have long predicted that rising air and sea temperatures, earlier meltwater, later ice freeze-up, decrease in sea ice, thawing glacial ice, more erosion, and increased storm intensity would occur first at high latitudes.

Greenland has a significant impact on the weather in the Northern Hemisphere. There are also global weather effects to consider. Greenland is analogous to a large mountain switch, with weather influenced according to how wind and precipitation bounce off the mountain ridge.

When we reduce Greenland’s height due to glacial melt, we will ultimately be able to alter the flow of air mass. It could shift radically, resulting in significant economic costs. Extreme weather has already increased economic threats for many countries and industries. Greenland’s changing climate will only exacerbate the situation.

We face a massive challenge, but we already have many solutions. Shifting energy systems away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources like solar and wind will cut emissions that are causing climate change. But we have to get started right away.

While a growing coalition of nations is pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, roughly half of all emissions reductions must be implemented by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C.

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