New research reveals that even if the world ceased generating planet-warming emissions tomorrow, widespread ice losses from Greenland have already locked in roughly a foot of global sea level rise that is certain to arrive in the near future.
Sea levels would rise by at least 10 inches due to Greenland ice sheet melting, according to a new study published online on Monday in Nature Climate Change. That’s almost the same amount that Greenland, Antarctica, and thermal expansion (when ocean water expands as it heats) have added to world sea levels during the past century.
Changes in ice-sheet volume around Greenland were detected by researchers from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, who concluded that meltwater runoff has been the dominant driver. The scientists used “well-established theory” to predict that as the Greenland ice sheet adapts to the changes that have already occurred, 3.3% of the ice sheet, or about 110 trillion tons of ice, will melt.
According to senior author Jason Box, a scientist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, the sea level rise from this melted ice will occur “independent of any probable future climate scenario this century.” So to speak, “this is water that has already passed under the bridge.”
The authors didn’t give a specific date, but they do say that the sea level rise might happen anytime this century or the next.
Scientists told CNN that rapid melting was driven by several days of exceptionally warm weather in northern Greenland, when temperatures hovered around 60 degrees, 10 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year.
Data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that the quantity of ice that melted in Greenland between July 15 and 17 alone—6 billion tons of water per day—would be enough to fill 7.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Many scientists throughout the world have warned that unless rapid action is taken to reduce emissions, the frequency and severity of catastrophic melting occurrences would only increase.