Greenland is about three-times the size of Texas and almost completely covered in ice. Last week, 12 billion tonnes of ice melted and ran-off the ice sheet in one day. The National Snow and Ice Data Center estimated that between July 30 and August 3, runoff from ice melt was about 55 billion tonnes. This is 40 billion tonnes more than the historic average. At this rate, ice runoff could match or surpass what was seen in 2012, when runoff reached a 350-year high.
To put this in perspective, we’ve compiled five facts on Greenland’s ice sheet from data on Resource Watch and recent peer-reviewed research:
- Every summer the Greenland ice sheet melts, and loses about 286 gigatonnes of ice per year. A gigatonne is a billion tonnes of water, which is enough to fill about 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In the chart below, you can see the dip in ice mass in the record year 2012. Between January 2012 and January 2013, Greenland lost about 450 billion tonnes of ice.
- The ice melt season started early this year. Images from satellites found that the ice arch that goes between Greenland and Ellesmere Island broke-up in March this year, months ahead of schedule. According to NASA, the arch acts a gatekeeper, preventing sea ice from exiting the Arctic Ocean and drifting southward into Baffin Bay.
- Scientists recently found that methane is being released from below the Greenland ice sheet — from inorganic and ancient organic carbon buried beneath the ice — during the melt season. This source of methane emissions is not properly accounted for in global carbon budgets, according to the researchers, and the gas is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
- Melting ice on land from glaciers or ice sheets is one of the two major forces driving sea level rise. (The other is thermal expansion, because water expands as it gets warmer.) Researchers estimate that melting land ice in the Arctic accounted for 35% of sea level rise in recent years.
- A faster melting Arctic means faster sea level rise. The Greenland ice sheet alone could contribute between 5 to 33 centimeters (2 and 13 inches) of sea level rise by the end of the century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 2 degrees C of warming could mean about 36 centimeters (1.2 feet) to 87 centimeters (2.9 feet) of sea level rise by 2100. Explore Climate Central data below to see areas at risk of being underwater with 0.5 meters of sea level rise.