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The Melting Of Greenland

Oct. 22, 2013 | BURN: An Energy Journal
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BURN: An Energy Journal

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  • Boat near Ilulissat, Greenland. credit: Gretel Ehrlich Photo
Boat near Ilulissat, Greenland. | credit: Gretel Ehrlich Photo | rollover image for more

Rising tides signal an inarguable remaking of our physical world that is already underway and gaining momentum.

The US is especially vulnerable. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has listed the 20 most threatened coastal cities in the world, which include Miami, New York, New Orleans.

Explore an interactive map to see how Seattle, Portland, and other U.S. cities would be affected if sea levels rise 1 foot by 2020.

One particularly influential contributor to sea level rise is the ice melt in Greenland.

Just two percent of Greenland is bare land, the rest is covered in ice — two miles thick in some places.

One scientist believes the ice sheet is melting much faster than what is generally accepted. Jason Box lives in Copenhagen where he is a professor of glaciology. He says abrupt climate change is underway; and the last two decades had a much sharper rise in temperature compared to the past century. “To be called an alarmist is true — this is a serious problem. The political system seems incapable of responding at the speed we need. That keeps me up at night.”

Conrad Stephan, director of the Federal Institute for Forestry, Snow and Landscape in Switzerland, measures Greenland’s wind, snow and melt. “Last year was the maximum melt year since we started measuring in 1979. We lost 450 gigatons of ice,” said Stephan. Stephan compared that to taking all the ice in the Alps and multiplying that by five: That’s how much ice is lost on an annual basis in Greenland.

“Global sea levels rise, on average, close to one millimeter per year due to Greenland’s glacier melt,” said Stephan. “It does not sound like a lot, but we have to be aware that you are talking about global sea level. What’s important is the local sea level rise. Locally that can vary by a factor of two, or sometimes three. Half a meter sea level rise in 50 years has a major impact on the coastal regions of the world.”

Ehrlich: “It looked as if a hammer had been smashed down on the ice.”

Ehrlich: “Here we are at the end of time.”

This report comes from BURN: An Energy Journal and EarthFix partner station KUOW.

© 2013 BURN: An Energy Journal
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