110 Square Km Chunk Of Greenland’s Ice Sheet Just Broke Off
A huge chunk of the Arctic’s largest remaining ice shelf in Greenland has broken off and shattered.
Covering around 110 square kilometres (sqkm), the latest loss from the shelf – known as 79N or Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden – is another testament to the mounting dangers of climate change across the nation.
After enduring heavy fracturing in 2019, ‘record summer temperatures’ have led to the section’s detachment from the larger sheet in the north-east of the country.
The ejected ice was known as the Spalte Glacier, an offshoot formerly located at the leading edge of 79N in the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream. Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden is around 80km long and 20km wide.
Dr Jenny Turton, a polar researcher at Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander University, explained to BBC News that ‘the atmosphere in this region has warmed by about 3°C since 1980… and in 2019 and 2020, it saw record summer temperatures’.
To state the obvious, higher temperatures equal more melting. With hotter seasons, 79N is holding substantially more ‘melt ponds’, which are weakening its integrity as time goes on. Along with warmer sea temperatures, it’s taking hits from above and below.
Professor Jason Box, from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, added:
79N became ‘the largest remaining Arctic ice shelf’ only fairly recently, after the Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland lost a lot of area in 2010 and 2012.
What makes 79N so important is the way it’s attached to the interior ice sheet, and that means that one day – if the climate warms as we expect – this region will probably become one of the major centres of action for the deglaciation of Greenland.
With 79N continuing to thin, at some point it’ll likely disintegrate ‘from the middle, which is kind of unique. I guess, though, that won’t happen for another 10 or 20 years. Who knows?’
In 2019, Greenland lost one million tones of ice every minute, amassing to a total of 532 billion tonnes. For context, this would fill seven Olympic-sized swimming pools per second. From data collected since 2003, the annual loss was an average of 255 billion tonnes – the amount lost in July last year alone.
Since 1994, the Earth has lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice, that amount would ‘cover the entire surface of the UK with a sheet of frozen water that is 100 metres thick’.
It’s important to note the direct consequence of melting ice: rising sea levels, with experts predicting an increase of a metre by the end of the century.
Professor Andy Shepherd, director of Leeds University’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, told The Guardian: ‘To put that in context, every centimetre of sea level rise means about a million people will be displaced from their low-lying homelands.’
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