Greenland’s ice is melting at increasing speed: analysis

The rate at which the inland ice in Greenland is melting increased fourfold from 2003 to 2013.

Greenland's ice is melting at increasing speed: analysis
File photo: Christian Brøndum/Scanpix

A new and comprehensive study found that 111 cubic kilometres of Greenland's inland ice disappeared in 2003. Ten years later, that figure had risen to 428 cubic kilometres.

That corresponds to a fourfold increase within the last 10 years, DR reports.

Shfaqat Abbas Khan, a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, contributed to the study. 

“It is surprising that the ice is also melting in southwestern Greenland. In the future, melting water from that area is likely to make a major contribution to global sea levels,” Khan said to DR.

Up to now, focus has mainly been on the northwest and south-eastern part of Greenland, he added. 

The melting of the glaciers is caused in part by rising sea temperatures, whereby glaciers are meeting an increasingly warmer sea. But this doesn't explain why the ice is melting in southwestern Greenland, where there are fewer glaciers.

But large amounts of ice are also disappearing from this part of the country, researchers concluded. This means that areas without glaciers – where the ice only melts a few summer months a year – also contribute to changes in sea level because the temperature in the air is rising.

“This means that the ice in those areas is contributing to the sea level to the same extent – or to an even greater extent – as in the areas where glaciers are located,” Khan said.

Researchers working on the study analyzed satellite images of Greenland and compared the results with measurements of the bedrock in Greenland.

The comparison was applied to data from the period 2003 to 2016.

Here, they saw that the meltdown accelerated year by year, with the exception of a period of 12-18 months beginning in mid-2013.

“This shows that it is necessary to observe climate change over a long period of time in order to be able to accommodate the variations in the weather that occur naturally,” Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, told DR.

The melting accelerated again in 2014, and Khan estimates that rate will be even greater in the future.

“As the temperature in the atmosphere continues to rise, we will see increased melting in Greenland,” he said.

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‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.