Jan 19, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Parts of Greenland warmer now than in 1,000 years

An aerial view of meltwater on the Russell Glacier in Greenland on Aug. 16, 2022. Photo: Lukasz Larsson Warzecha/Getty Images

Northern and central Greenland were warmer in the early 21st century compared to any period in at least the past 1,000 years, a new study found.

Why it matters: The new research offers the first conclusive evidence of human-induced long-term warming and increased meltwater runoff in the northern and central parts of Greenland, typically the coldest parts of the ice sheet.

  • How much and how fast the ice sheet melts will help determine the fate of coastal residents worldwide, given its contribution to sea level rise.

The big picture: The study, published in the journal Nature, finds that the warming during 2000-2011 exceeded the peak from swings in temperatures during pre-industrial times “with virtual certainty," and is about 1.5°C warmer than it was during the twentieth century.

  • The likelihood that such temperatures would occur during the period from 1000-1800 is “close to zero,” the paper states.
  • The researchers worked to overcome a large amount of natural climate variability in the region by obtaining as many high quality ice core and other climate records as possible.

Threat level: “Global warming is now detectable in one of the most remote regions of the world,” the study states.

  • The reconstructed history of meltwater flowing off the ice sheet shows a spike during the 2000-2011 period that is unprecedented for the past millennium, a trend it predicts will continue, though with less certainty than the temperature conclusions.

What they’re saying: “I hope this is a reminder for everyone that we should be worried, very worried about the Greenland ice sheet melting away,” Eric Rignot of UC Irvine and a senior researcher at NASA, who was not involved in the study, told Axios via email.

  • Ian Joughin, a climate scientist at the University of Washington, who also not involved in the new work, said the study offers valuable new data. “Greenland is warming with a clear linear trend, which likely will steepen with time,” he said.

Yes, but: Joughin cautioned that natural variability in the region means future decades could see lower amounts of warming and melting, at least temporarily.

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