Greenland Witness Rainfall
For the first time in recorded history, it has rained at the pinnacle of Greenland’s ice sheet, marking yet another troubling milestone in our ecological unravelling.
Greenland, like much of the Northern Hemisphere, has been sweltering, with temperatures at the glacier’s crest above freezing for the third time in less than a decade. The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s (NSIDC) Summit Station recorded several hours of rain on August 14, 2021, at a temperature that is ordinarily far too cold for water to fall as a liquid.
Volume of Ice Lost
“There has been no previous report of rainfall at this area, which is at an elevation of 3,216 metres (10,551 feet),” according to the NSIDC, which also noted that the volume of ice lost in one day was seven times the daily average for this time of year.
“Greenland, like the rest of the planet, is changing,” Ted z, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, told The Washington Post. “Greenland currently has three melting events every ten years, compared to once every 150 years before to 1990. And suddenly there’s rain: in a place where it’s never rained before.”
“It’s something that’s impossible to envision without the influence of global climate change, like the hot wave in the [US Pacific] northwest.”
Ice Sheets Disturbed by Rain
Ice sheets form in parts of the world that do not generally melt throughout the summer. Over thousands of years, winter snow accumulates, collapsing under the weight of new layers.
Warm air temperatures have triggered previous recent melts here, resulting in the formation of vast networks of summer lakes that can speed up melting and destabilise the ice sheets.
Rain not only melts snow, resulting to increased melting events, but it also has the potential to disrupt long-term ice sheet dynamics.
Rain reveals and freezes a layer of ice that is darker and thus more heat absorbing than the glacier’s regular white, packed-snow ice. It will also form a smooth barrier once frozen, preventing meltwater from seeping beneath the surface. This can then flood the ice sheet’s surface, resulting in much more melting at higher elevations than runoff typically causes.
Climate Changes Ahead
“These processes can occur over sections of the ice sheet that do not typically suffer melt during melt events, causing the impact to be more extensive,” NASA glaciologist Lauren Andrews explained. “Such positive feedback is beginning to take its toll.”
Greenland’s ice sheet stores enough freshwater to raise sea levels by 6 metres (20 feet), and thus has a significant impact on weather and climate. According to a recent IPCC report, warming of more over 2 degrees Celsius will cause the enormous ice sheet to collapse. One of the big tipping points that scientists are worrying about is this.
Wildlife and Inhabitants Affected
The loss of ice is posing a challenge for indigenous tribes in this region, and wildlife is also feeling the effects of these changes. Beyond the immediate effects on sea level rise, Greenland meltwater is expected to reduce the Gulf Stream ocean current, altering tropical monsoon patterns and threatening rainforests.
“We’re passing boundaries not seen in millennia,” Scambos told CNN. “And frankly, this isn’t going to change until we correct what we’re doing to the air.”
This will necessitate a global effort by many of us to hold those most responsible accountable while also assisting each other in making better collective decisions.