Greenland’s Recent Ice Melt Could Cover All of West Virginia in Water

Greenland’s Recent Ice Melt Could Cover All of West Virginia in Water
Drone images of icebergs floating in Disko Bay, Ilulissat, western Greenland in June 2022. (Photo: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP, Getty Images)

Unusually warm temperatures in Northern Greenland last week triggered a huge ice melt, alarming scientists.

Temperatures in the usually frigid country reached around 15.5 degrees Celsius, which is 10 degrees warmer than average for this month, CNN reported, citing data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre. As a result, Greenland lost a whopping 6 billion tons of water per day between July 15 and 17 alone — enough to cover the entire state of West Virginia with a foot of water, according to CNN.

“The northern melt this past week is not normal, looking at 30 to 40 years of climate averages,” Ted Scambos, a scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado, told CNN. “But melting has been on the increase, and this event was a spike in melt.” Concerned researchers in Greenland told CNN that they were able to walk around outside in just t-shirts during that temperature spike, which was highly unusual.

Scientists have been worried about Greenland’s glaciers melting for years now, especially because the Arctic is warming up faster than anywhere else on earth due to climate change. Last August, it rained for the first time in recorded history over the Greenland Summit Camp, a research station that’s near the frozen top of the ice sheet. That same summer, enough ice melted in one day to cover the entire state of Florida.

The depletion of ice and snow at the world’s poles means that less sunlight is reflected away from the world. This creates a dangerous feedback loop, one where less ice means more heat is absorbed, which then causes faster melting.

Greenland’s melting glaciers aren’t just a hazard to communities there and to vulnerable species like polar bears that need frozen land to hunt on. The effects of huge melts in that region are felt globally. Soaring temperatures during the summer of 2019 caused the island to lose more than 530 billion tons from its ice sheet, which was the largest loss in a year since record-keeping began in 1948. This caused the global sea levels to rise 1.5 millimetres, CNN reported. And since the late 1990s, a combination of Greenland and Antarctic ice loss has raised sea levels by 1.8 centimetres.

Sea levels have increased about 23 cm since the 1880s. That may not sound like a lot, but small increase in sea level can mean more severe and more common coastal flooding that destroys infrastructure and puts people’s lives at risk.