‘This Is Not Cool’ Yale Forum Video Details Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet

Greenland photo

Research scientists provide insights on recent ‘unprecedented’ melting of Greenland’s interior ice sheet.

KANGERLUSSUAQ, GREENLAND — This month’s Yale Forum “This is Not Cool” video by independent videographer Peter Sinclair relates the story behind the accelerating melt of Greenland’s ice sheet, as Sinclair reports live from a recent “Dark Snow Project” research trip.

“Off the scale” and “a rate of retreat that I believe is unprecedented in terms of the last 10,000 years” are terms scientist Alun Hubbard, of Wales’ Aberstwyth University, uses to describe what he has personally witnessed in visits to Greenland dating back to 2007.

Penn State University climate scientist Richard Alley is quoted in the exclusive video cautioning that “the history of Greenland is very clear. When it’s warm, there’s no ice on Greenland; when it’s cold, there’s lots of ice on Greenland.”

Greenland is “very tightly tied to temperature, and if it gets too hot it goes away. And too hot is not very many degrees away from where we are now.”

Hubbard points to data demonstrating “a marked speed-up event” in melting of Greenland’s interior ice sheet since 2010…an area he says “did nothing before.” He says melting of the 1,500-meter thick interior ice over the past three or four summers has accelerated by 2 to 3 percent a year, moving more mass to lower elevations of the ice sheet.

“The Greenland ice sheet is deglaciating, it’s drawing down the interior of the ice sheet faster than the models assume at present, causing untold damage to the base of the ice sheet” in interior regions not susceptible to such water input over at least the past 10,000 years.

Climate scientist Jason Box of the Geological Society of Denmark and Greenland, lead on the “Dark Snow Project” research trip*, explains that the relatively warm water draining down into the ice “heats the ice sheet internally.”

That increase in melt water has “a softening effect” on the ice, he says.

“The ice sheet in its interior is accelerating, and the melt at the margin is enhanced. And I think that means this ice sheet is actively accelerating. And that’s a pretty serious problem for sea-level rise.”

* “Dark Snow Project research trip was underwritten through a web-based crowd-sourced funding initiative, which attracted, along with other sources and funding, a $25,000 grant from The Grantham Foundation for Protection of the Environment, which also supports the work of The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media.

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7 Responses to ‘This Is Not Cool’ Yale Forum Video Details Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet

  1. Joe Witte says:

    more on interior “warming” by melt water in recent AGU paper, using some
    NASA satellite data:

  2. John-Paul Warren says:

    But they don’t mention the rocky jagged base that the ice sheet is on top of. We hear from others that this jaggedness will keep the sheet intact. In the Not Cool vid are they saying that this jaggedness doesn’t matter, since it can all melt away into the sea without need for the ice sheet to slide across this jaggedness? Okay if that is what they are saying that makes sense. But he says that the ice has softened like butter, so I assume that he’s saying that once softened it is going to slide easier. But he doesn’t say that he just leaves it at that point. As a listener I don’t know -is he speaking slide or simply melt? One being rapid of course. Am I being too picky? -I think so.

    • I asked this question of Richard Alley, who has emphasized the “jagged base” factor in a recent lecture. He agreed that surface melting, exacerbated by darkening of the ice, could indeed cause things to move much faster, as surface melting is not bound by the same “speed limits’ that govern outlet glaciers moving over rough ice and constrained by rocky fiord walls.
      Dr. Box believes that a primary accelerating factor of melt will be surface albedo, or reflectivity, which is becoming rapidly darker due to larger areas of surface melt and, perhaps, additional input of darkening pollution, soot, and biological material.
      There will be more videos in this series to fill in the blanks.

      • Russell says:

        Candor demands some mention of the consequences of isostasy – the weight of the ice has so deformed the Earth’s crust beneath ,that much of the land under the icecap lies below sea level.

        It needs saying that those concave areas are sinks of ice flow rather than sources.

        • wili says:

          Not sure what your point is. There the basin is not completely isolated from the sea.

          Also, eventually as the weight is removed from the interior, that land will slowly start to rise, which in turn will tilt the land ever more toward the seas.

          Another eventual feedback will be the lower of the elevation of the highest areas of the GIS. As these areas move into lower elevations, they will warm more quickly.

          Of course, for now, it is the effects on ice structure, and the various factors changing ice albedo that are the major factors accelerating melt and flow. Not to mention on-going dumping of carbon into the atmosphere by our wonderful industrial society to the tune of about 10 billion tons per year.

  3. Lewis Gannett says:

    The concept of surface meltwater seeping through cracks to the base of a glacier, and there mixing with sediment to form a mud-like lubricant, isn’t new. The lubricant is called “till.” Maybe till doesn’t grease the skids, so to speak, of glacial movement over jagged rock. But I’m puzzled that the basic concept is considered new. Isn’t this Glaciology 101?

    • Mark E says:

      They weren’t talking till,they were talking butter from your freezer versus butter from the fridge versus butter that’s been on the table a while.

      All three might be solid, but which can you most easily spread over the jagged surface of a torn-off hunk of bread?