The legend of the Greenland “Continent” is that Vikings discovered the barren, ice-encrusted island and that in order to attract new inhabitants, they gave it the ironic name that stays with it to this day. The real story might be a bit more complicated, but thanks to global climate change, the name may soon fit.
Greenland: One of the Coldest Countries on Earth
With temperatures that struggle to reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit, during the summer, Greenland has earned the distinction of being one of the coldest places on earth. Greenland is not a continent, though many call it that. It is the largest island on the planet, if you exclude Australia and Antarctica, which are continents. Nearly 3/4ths of Greenland’s 836,000 square miles are covered by a mile deep layer of ice. That’s enough ice to cover the Gulf of Mexico and cover the shores of several of the Gulf states. That ice is melting, and if humans don’t act quickly, the devastation will be global.
Greenland’s Changing Environment
Across the world, temperatures are rising and the rate at which they’re rising is escalating. According to NASA, “The global average surface temperature rose 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.1 to 1.6° F) between 1906 and 2005, and the rate of temperature increase has nearly doubled in the last 50 years. Temperatures are certain to go up further.”
You probably see evidence of the rising temperatures in your own backyard. Flowers bloom earlier, summers are hotter and winters are more severe. There are very few places on the planet, though, where the effects of global climate change can be observed as directly as they can on Greenland.
The big melt began in 2003. What many refer to as Greenland’s melting glaciers, the ice sheet, began to erode. Since then, the island has shed about 269 billion tons of ice each and every year. That’s an 80 percent increase in melting from the 26 years prior. If it were to all melt, the oceans would rise by a whopping 25 feet. Greenland’s melting ice accounts for 25 percent of the sea level rise since 2014. In 1993, it was just 5 percent.
Causes of Melting Ice
Greenland’s melting ice is a complex convergence of several factors. All of them, though, can be traced to man made climate change, caused by an increase in greenhouse gasses.
The most obvious factor is that climate change is warming the oceans. Since 1970, the world’s oceans temperatures have risen one degree. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, just half a degree can cause longer heat waves, more intense rainstorms, an increase in sea level and the degradation of coral reefs. At the rate we’re going, coral reefs won’t last into the next century. That half a degree can also cause a severe disruption to our food supply.
The earth and its atmosphere are constantly under flux. Throughout geological history, climate change is nothing new. But this extreme rate of change without an extraterrestrial catalyst, like an asteroid hitting the planet, is unheard of. Study after study have shown that there is one cause of global warming: humans.
The gas that’s changing the climate
The main factor in climate change is a single gas, carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is naturally occurring and an integral part of the circle of life. Every animal exhales carbon dioxide. In turn, plants consume the carbon dioxide in the environment and turn it into oxygen. The atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from approximately 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million since the start of the industrial revolution. There simply aren’t enough plants in the world to handle the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment. The destruction of the rainforests are only adding to the problem.
400 parts per million was a threshold that we were never supposed to cross. Scientists have warned us about it and they fear that we may never drop below this concentration again.
There’s no doubt, humans are to blame
We know human activities are driving the increase in CO2 concentrations because atmospheric CO2 contains information about its source. Scientists can tease apart how much CO2 comes from natural sources, and how much comes from combusted fossil fuel sources.
Compared to other carbon sources, carbon from fossil fuels has a distinctly different “signature,” essentially the relative amount of heavier or lighter atoms of carbon (technically δ13C). The more negative the δ13C, the higher the proportion of carbon from fossil fuels.
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists
One Weird Phenomena That’s Making Things Worse
Scientists also noticed another phenomenon. In 2003, the wind and the jet stream changed. The wind ushered in warmer air and the jet stream became wavier, increasing the melt rate.
“Our results show the effects of a strongly warming Arctic and disturbed atmospheric jet stream on causing a record melt of the far northern reaches of the Greenland ice sheet last summer,” said Edward Hanna, a climate change researcher at the University of Sheffield who was part of the research. In a previous study, Hanna also linked extreme Greenland ice sheet melting in 2012 to an unusual northward loop of the jet stream.
Source: Inside Climate News
Scientists believe that the fact that the ice is melting is causing the changes in the jet stream, causing even more melting.
“If loss of sea ice is driving changes in the jet stream, the jet stream is changing Greenland, and this, in turn, has an impact on the Arctic system as well as the climate,” said Marco Tedesco, research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and adjunct scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He is also the lead author of the study.
Source: Global News
In the video above you will find a Greenland map, and the changing Greenland ice sheet.
What the Rising Sea Levels Means for the World
Rising sea levels will change pretty much everything as we know it. The obvious effects are flooding and erosion. The water will contaminate soil, destroy natural habitats and in the most extreme cases, storm surges can take out entire cities.
Cities that are at sea level may disappear and inland areas will be subjected to flood waters. Some estimates indicate that the city of London could be wiped off the map by 2100.
How to Turn it Around
The United States is second in the world in carbon emissions — behind only China. The United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world that has essentially vowed to do nothing about it.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which imposes voluntary emissions targets on participating nations. Trump’s administration is stacked with climate change deniers, and the Republican Congress does not have the political will to combat climate change. Congress has even cut budgets for climate-related research.
Things we can do.
There are things we can do, though. It’s important that we all get involved. Elect people based on their climate stances. Contact your elected officials and tell them that you want them to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if that means disappointing corporate donors. Politicians may need money to get elected, but votes are still more important and they know it.
If you have the ability, switch to renewable energy as much as you can. Install solar panels on your roof. If you can’t do that, ask your utility company to switch to renewable sources. They might be reluctant, but if enough of their customer base demands it, they may have no choice.
Eat less meat and eat locally whenever possible. Shop farmers’ markets and local produce stands and eat what’s in season.
Recycle as much as you can, use cloth bags at the grocery store and try to have less food waste. You should only buy what you know you will eat. Work from home when you can and if possible, take public transportation, carpool or buy an electric car.
Even if we do all of this, we may never turn our climate back to the pre-industrial ages, but we may be able to halt any future damage. And who knows, we might save London.
Featured Image: CC by 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons