Aug 29, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Study: Greenland ice melt will raise sea levels by nearly a foot

Ice covered fjords and mountain landscapes on Greenland on Aug. 5.
Ice covered fjords and mountain landscapes on Greenland on Aug. 5. Photo: Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The Greenland Ice Sheet is on course to lose hundreds of trillions metric tons of ice and contribute close to a foot in average global sea level rise through 2100, regardless of the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions cuts during the period, glaciologists found in a new study published Monday.

Why it matters: The study indicates that human-caused global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions has effectively locked in a certain amount of sea level rise from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

  • Already with sea level rise seen so far, coastal flood events are far more common in cities like Miami and Charleston, and future storms are expected to have more damaging storm surges.

By the numbers: The researchers estimated that the ice sheet will lose about 3.3% of its total volume within this century, which corresponds to 110 trillion metric tons of ice and an average global sea level rise of at least 270 millimeters, or 10.6 inches.

  • For comparison, that amount of ice loss could cover the entire U.S. with 37 feet of water, the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, finds.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Andrew Freedman: This study is significant since it relies on observations during two decades of studying Greenland, rather than just computer modeling.

  • In addition, the findings illustrate how hard it is to press the brakes on ice melt even if emissions were to halt completely now.

What they're saying: Jason Box, the study's lead author and a professor at the National Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), said the study actually puts forward low estimates on the Greenland Ice Sheet's future, as the world will not instantly stop burning fossil fuels.

  • "It is a very conservative rock-bottom minimum. Realistically, we will see this figure more than double within this century," Box said in a statement Monday.
  • “In the foreseeable scenario that global warming will only continue, the contribution of the Greenland Ice Sheet to sea level rise will only continue increasing," he added.
  • "When we take the extreme melt year 2012 and take it as a hypothetical average constant climate later this century, the committed mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet more than doubles to 78 cm," or over 30 inches by 2100.

Yes, but: The study also only estimated average sea level rise because of ice melt from the Greenland Ice Sheet and did not consider how melt from Antarctica or other glaciers around the world may also contribute.

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