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ENVIRONMENT

Greenland ice cap lost enough water in 20 years to cover US, Danish study finds

Greenland's immense ice sheet has lost enough ice in the past 20 years to submerge the entire United States in half a metre of water, according to data released this week by Danish researchers.

Since measurements began in 2002, the Greenland ice sheet has lost about 4,700 billion tonnes of ice, according to Polar Portal, a joint project involving several Danish Arctic research institutes.
Since measurements began in 2002, the Greenland ice sheet has lost about 4,700 billion tonnes of ice, according to Polar Portal, a joint project involving several Danish Arctic research institutes. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The climate is warming faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet and melting ice from Greenland is now the main factor in the rise in the Earth’s oceans, according to NASA.

Since measurements began in 2002, the Greenland ice sheet has lost about 4,700 billion tonnes of ice, said Polar Portal, a joint project involving several Danish Arctic research institutes.

This represents 4,700 cubic kilometres of melted water — “enough to cover the entire US by half a meter” — and has contributed 1.2 centimetres to sea level rise, the Arctic monitoring website added.

Polar Portal’s findings are based on satellite imagery from the US-German GRACE programme (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which showed the ice melt to be most severe near the coasts of the Arctic territory, at the edge of the ice sheet. 

In these peripheral zones, “independent observations also indicate that the ice is thinning, that the glacier fronts are retreating in fjords and on land, and that there is a greater degree of melting from the surface of the ice”, the website said.

The west coast of Greenland is particularly affected, according to the data. 

Climate change is particularly alarming in the Arctic, which scientists say is warming at a rate three to four times the global average.

According to a study published by NASA in late January, the accelerated melting near Greenland’s coasts can be explained by the warming of the Arctic Ocean. 

The phenomenon “is melting Greenland’s glaciers at least as much as warm air is melting them from above”.

Melting ice from Greenland is currently the main factor in the rise in the Earth’s oceans and the territory’s glaciers are now retreating six to seven times faster than they were 25 years ago, the US agency added.

According to climate scientists, the Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise the oceans by more than seven metres, and the ice sheet in Antarctica contains enough for a rise of almost 50 metres. 

Arctic sea ice cover, although its melting has no effect on sea levels, has also shrunk considerably, losing almost 13 percent of its average surface area every 10 years.

READ ALSO: Heatwave causes massive melt of Greenland ice sheet

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GREENLAND

Why Denmark and Canada are about to share a border

A half-century-long peaceful dispute over an uninhabited island has ended after an agreement was reached between Denmark, Greenland and Canada.

Why Denmark and Canada are about to share a border

The 50-year spat over Hans Island has been resolved after the countries agreed to a partition of the island and the Labrador Sea, which separates Greenland and Canada.

The deal means that the Danish kingdom – of which Greenland is an autonomous territory – will be extended by an area the size of Jutland, Funen and Zealand combined.

Hans Island is a barren island around 1.3 square kilometres in size. Located between Greenland and Canada, it is symbolically significant for both countries.

Talks have been ongoing since a special focus group was appointed in 2018 in an effort to find a solution to the longstanding territorial dispute.

The agreement means a border will run from the north to the south of the island along a ridge, with one half being part of the Danish kingdom and the other Canadian territory.

Should Greenland ever become fully independent from Denmark, the Hans Island area would become part of Greenland, which is itself the world’s largest island.

In addition to partitioning Hans Island, the agreement also fixes a maritime border stretching a distance of 3,882 kilometres from the Lincoln Sea to the Labrador Sea. This border will be the world’s longest sea border and the most northerly part of the Schengen area.

One half of the area separated by the new sea border will also become part of Denmark’s territory.

The agreement was scheduled to be signed by the three countries at a ceremony on Tuesday. It must also be approved by the Danish parliament. This is expected to be a formality.

The dispute over the island has been ongoing since the 1970s but has always been peaceful.

In the 2000s, Denmark asserted its claims to the island on several occasions by raising the Danish flag and leaving a bottle of schnapps. Canada responded by leaving its own flag and a bottle of whisky.

The dispute has not affected the Inuit population of the area, who use the island for navigation purposes. It is known by the Thule people as Tartapaluk, meaning “kidney shaped”, while the name Hans comes from a Greenlandic hunter and expedition leader.

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