Greenland update for 2010: record melting and a massive calving event

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:31 PM GMT on March 04, 2011

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No humans were present on the morning of August 4, 2010, in a remote fjord in Northwest Greenland, when the air vibrated with a thunderous crack as one of the largest icebergs in world history calved from the Petermann Glacier, the island's second largest ocean-terminating glacier. Where the glacier meets the sea, a 43 mile-long tongue of floating ice existed at the beginning of 2010. On August 4 2010, a quarter of this 43 mile-long tongue of floating ice fractured off, spawning a 100 square mile ice island four times the size of Manhattan, with a thickness half that of the Empire State building. According to Andreas Muenchow, associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, the freshwater stored in this ice island could have kept the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years, or kept all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days. There was speculation that the ice island could find its way into the open Atlantic Ocean in two years, and potentially pose a threat to oil platforms and ships. However, as the ice island made its turn to get from the narrow Petermann Fjord to enter Nares Strait between Greenland and Canada, the mighty iceberg split into thousands of small icebergs that will not pose an unusual threat to shipping when they emerge into the Atlantic.


Figure 1. The 100 square-mile ice island that broke off the Petermann Glacier heads out of the Petermann Fjord in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on August 21, 2010. Image credit: NASA. I've constructed a 7-frame satellite animation available here that shows the calving and break-up of the Petermann Glacier ice island. The animation begins on August 5, 2010, and ends on September 21, with images spaced about 8 days apart. The images were taken by NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.

Petermann Glacier spawned smaller ice islands in 2001 (34 square miles) and in 2008 (10 square miles). In 2005, the Ayles Ice Shelf, about 60 miles to the west of Petermann Glacier, disintegrated and became a 34 square-mile ice island. The August 2010 Petermann Glacier calving event created the largest iceberg observed in the Arctic since 1962, when the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf on the north coast of Canada's Ellesmere Island calved off a massive 230 square mile chunk. The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf also calved off a huge 21 square mile ice island a few days after the August 2010 Petermann Glacier calving event. According to an article in livescience.com, "Driftwood and narwhal remains found along the Ellesmere coast have radiocarbon dates from roughly 3,000 to 6,800 years ago, implying that the ice has been intact since those remains were deposited." All of the these calving events are evidence that the ice sheets in the Arctic are responding as one would expect to significantly warmer temperatures.

Warmer ocean temperatures cause significant melting of Greenland's glaciers
At a talk last December at the world's largest conference on climate change, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, glacier expert Eric Rignot of UC-Irvine implicated ocean warming as a key reason for the calving of the Petermann Glacier's ice island. The ocean waters near the glacier have warmed by 1 - 2°C over the past three years, he said, and all of the periphery of Greenland has seen ocean heat increases in recent years, with the result that 20 - 80% of all the mass lost by Greenland's glaciers in recent years could be attributed to melting of the glaciers by warmer waters attacking them from beneath. Ocean temperatures along the southwest coast of Greenland (60N to 70N, 60W to 50W) computed from the UK Hadley Center data set during 2010 were 2.9°C (5.2°F) above average--a truly remarkable anomaly, and far warmer than the previous record of 1.5°C above average set in 2003. Sea surface temperature records for Greenland began in the 1920s. A study earlier this year published in the journal Science (Spielhagen et al., 2011) found that ocean temperatures on the east side of Greenland are now at their warmest levels in at least 2,000 years. The researchers studied a sediment core containing fossil remains of planktic foraminifers, which vary as a function of water temperature. The study noted that not only have the waters flowing northward on the east side of Greenland warmed significantly, the volume of water flowing north has also increased, resulting in a large transport of heat into the Arctic. "Such an increased heat input has far-reaching consequences," they wrote.


Figure 2. Departure of sea surface temperature from average for 2010 from the NOAA Daily Optimum Interpolation SST Anomaly data set for October 2010. Areas colored red are warmer than the 1971-2000 average, areas colored blue are cooler than that average. A large region of record warm water temperatures extended along the west coast of Greenland, leading to record warm air temperatures and record melting along the western portion of Greenland in 2010. Ocean temperatures along the southwest coast of Greenland (60N to 70N, 60W to 50W) computed from the UK Hadley Center data set during 2010 were 2.9°C (5.2°F) above average--a truly remarkable anomaly, surpassing the previous record of 1.5°C set in 2003. Sea surface temperature records for Greenland began in the 1920s. Image credit: NOAA Visualization Lab.

Record warmth and melting in Greenland during 2010
Greenland's climate in 2010 was marked by record-setting high air temperatures, the greatest ice loss by melting since accurate records began in 1958, and the greatest mass loss of ocean-terminating glaciers on record. That was the conclusion of the 2010 Arctic Report Card, a collaborative effort between NOAA and European Arctic experts that comes out each year. Was 2010 the warmest year in Greenland's history? That is difficult to judge. We know it was also very warm in the late 1920s and 1930s in Greenland, but we only have two stations, Godtahab Nuuk and Angmagssalik, with weather records that go back that far (Figure 3.) Godtahab Nuuk set a record high in 2010, but temperatures at Angmagssalik in 2010 were similar to what was observed during several years in the 1920s and 1930s. Marco Tedesco of the City College of New York's Cryosphere Processes Laboratory remarked that last year's record warmth and melting in Greenland began when an unusually early spring warm spell reduced and "aged" the snow on the surface of the ice sheet, so that the snow became less reflective, allowing it to absorb more heat from the sun. This accelerated snow melt even further, exposing the bare ice, which is less reflective than snow and absorbs more heat. This feedback loop extended Greenland's record melting season well into the fall.


Figure 3. Historic temperatures in Greenland for the six stations with at least 50 years of data, as archived by NASA. Three of the six stations set record highs in 2010. However, only two of the six stations (Godtahab Nuuk and Angmagssalik) have data going back beyond the 1930s, which was a period of warmth in Greenland similar to the warmth of the current decade. Godtahab Nuuk set a record high in 2010, but 2003 still ranks as Angmagssalik's hottest year on record.


Figure 4. The 2010 summer melt season was lasted more than 40 days longer (purple colors) than the mean melt season from 1979 - 2007. Image credit: Arctic Report Card.

Why Greenland matters: sea level rise
The major concern with a warming climate in Greenland is melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which currently contributes about 25% of the observed 3 mm/year (1.2 inches per decade) global rise in sea level. Higher sea levels mean increased storm surge inundation, coastal erosion, loss of low-lying land areas, and salt water contamination of underground drinking water supplies. Greenland ice mass loss is accelerating over the long term, according to independent estimates using three different techniques (Figure 5), with more mass being lost each year than the previous year. According to Rignot et al., 2011, ice mass loss is also accelerating in Antarctica, and "the magnitude of the acceleration suggests that ice sheets will be the dominant contributors to sea level rise in forthcoming decades, and will likely exceed the IPCC projections for the contribution of ice sheets to sea level rise in the 21st century." As I discussed in a 2009 blog post, How much will global sea level rise this century?, the IPCC in 2007 estimated that global sea level would rise 0.6 - 1.9 feet by 2100, but several studies since then predict a higher range of 1.6 - 6.6 feet.

During the warm period 125,000 years ago, before the most recent ice age, roughly half of the Greenland ice sheet melted. This melting plus the melting of other smaller Arctic ice fields is thought to have caused 7.2 - 11.2 feet (2.2 - 3.4 meters) of the 13 - 20 foot (4 - 6 meter) sea level rise observed during that period. Temperatures in Greenland are predicted to rise 3°C by 2100, to levels similar to 125,000 years ago. If this level of warming occurs, we can expect sea levels to rise 13 - 20 feet several centuries from now. There's enough water locked away in the ice sheet to raise sea level to rise 23 feet (7 meters), should the entire Greenland ice sheet melt.


Figure 5. Loss of mass from Greenland's ice sheet in gigatons per year from 1992 through 2009, as computed from satellite gravity measurements from the GRACE satellites (red line) and from a mass balance method. The mass balance method computes the amount of snow on the surface, the amount of ice mass lost to wind and melt, and the amount of ice lost computed from glacier velocity and ice thickness. Adding together these terms gives the total amount of ice lost or gained over the ice sheet. The acceleration is given in gigatons per year squared. Another paper by Zwally et al. (2011) used a third method, laser satellite altimetry, to determine Greenland mass loss. Between 2003 to 2007, the ice sheet lost 171 gigatons of mass per year. Between 1992 to 2002, Greenland was only losing only 7 gigatons per year. Image credit: Rignot et al., 2011, Geophysical Research Letters.

References
Rignot, E., et al., 2011: Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets to sea level rise, Geophysical Research Letters, in press, doi:10.1029/2011GL046583.

Spielhagen, et al., 2011, Enhanced Modern Heat Transfer to the Arctic by Warm Atlantic Water, Science 28 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6016 pp. 450-453 DOI: 10.1126/science.1197397

Zwally, J., et al., 2011, Greenland ice sheet mass balance: distribution of increased mass loss with climate warming; 2003 - 07 versus 19922 - 2002, Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 57, No. 201, 2011.

Wunderground's climate change section has a Greenland web page with detailed information and references.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting washingtonian115:
I wanna talk about that system out their in the Atlantic,and hurricane season but their's no one to discuss it with.CyberTeddy,Levi32,and MiamiHurricanes09 arn't in the building.


I will take a look at it.....go to my website.
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

I'll keep an eye on the blog for you while you're gone to make sure no contrarians enter. Time to get the watchdogs.
This almost reminds me of ADMIN when they are in full force in hurricane season.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17491
great view of the sun!
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Quoting TampaSpin:
No doubt JFlorida had a field day with the new blog topic.........just sayn. To give him promps his makes his point and stands by his belief and that is OK!
I wanna talk about that system out their in the Atlantic,and hurricane season but their's no one to discuss it with.CyberTeddy,Levi32,and MiamiHurricanes09 arn't in the building.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17491
Quoting Patrap:
The "coup de Graph"

800,000 Year Record of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Concentrations



Carbon dioxide concentration (parts per million) for the last 800,000 years, measured from trapped bubbles of air in an Antarctic ice core. More information: Climate Change Impacts on the U.S.

Over the last 800,000 years, natural factors have caused the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration to vary within a range of about 170 to 300 parts per million (ppm). The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by roughly 35 percent since the start of the industrial revolution. Globally, over the past several decades, about 80 percent of human-induced CO2 emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels, while about 20 percent resulted from deforestation and associated agricultural practices. In the absence of strong control measures, emissions projected for this century would result in the CO2 concentration increasing to a level that is roughly 2 to 3 times the highest level occurring over the glacial-interglacial era that spans the last 800,000 or more years.


And, as of today, we're still inside that blue dot.

The actual name for that chart should be "Carbon dioxide concentration for the last 800,000 years (with a really scary prediction grafted on to the end)".
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Quoting Neapolitan:
I'm off to meet some friends in celebration of landing a huge contract, so good night climate denialists and comedian wannabes! Enjoy yourselves, play nice, and stay away from sharp objects. I leave you with this:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.


I'm sure it was a comedian contract and you must be meeting the three stoogies...........LOL
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Quoting Ossqss:


Hey TS, good to see ya. I hope you are well. Go Rays!

Going to a game tomorrow with the critters, down this way.

Tip of the hat to the rest of the bloggers also :)

Back side of our glowing orb has bee active folks. Nice image here. Keep a peek on it.





been watching that too......GW is all about the Sun your correct!
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Quoting TampaSpin:


OH NO......here we go.......HEY BROTHER! How you been?


Hey TS, good to see ya. I hope you are well. Go Rays!

Going to a game tomorrow with the critters, down this way.

Tip of the hat to the rest of the bloggers also :)

Back side of our glowing orb has been active folks. Nice image here. Keep a peek on it.



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Quoting Ossqss:


OH NO......here we go.......HEY BROTHER! How you been?
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No doubt JFlorida had a field day with the new blog topic.........just sayn. To give him promps his makes his point and stands by his belief and that is OK!
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Quoting Neapolitan:

1. .

Refute any of the following with actual science, and we can talk:

1) The plant is warming, and rapidly.

2) That warming is due primarily--or even entirely to increasing concentrations of CO2.

3) Those increasing concentrations of CO2 are due primarily to man's activities.


Tell us how this is wrong? 28/100 of one percent?

Just how much of the "Greenhouse Effect" is caused by human activity?
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Quoting twincomanche:
Evil bad people. Shame on them for making a profit.
And initially funding the Climate Research Unit, a.k.a. CRU. Yes, that CRU.
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AL-GOR-ITH-M [AL-go-rith-uhm] noun. 1) a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation; broadly, a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some task. 2) [AL-gore-ith-uhm] A specific algorithm applied to climate-based news articles or internet forum comments in which the frequency of the phrases "Al Gore" or (lamely) "algore" is inversely proportional to the science contained in that article or comment. (obs.: used almost exclusively by denialists when they feel they've nowhere left to turn.)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13625
305. flsky
Quoting Neapolitan:

1. It was warmer 125,000 years ago - hard to blame that on hominids. Maybe it isn't all about us, though vanity seems a particularly human trait.

For perhaps the 300th time here: it's not just the rise in temperature, it's the speed with which it's now occurring. There's absolutely no evidence of such rapid heating. Ever.

2. Active stations in Greenland reported similar warmth in the 1920's and 1930's...there were less than 2 billion of us then vs 6 billion now.

When ice many tens of thousands of years old is melting now, there's a really good chance it didn't melt in the 1920s or 1930s.

3. We are emerging from what some term the Little Ice Age of the period from the early 1300s to around 1850, so one might just expect things to be warmer as a result.

Actually, as has been thoroughly dissected, we should be substantially cooler than we are. Your theory, then, holds as much water as a sieve.

4. With a predictive accuracy on short term weather forecasts under 50% after 3-4 days it seems a bit presumptious to forecast sea level conditions 100 years hence when we know ever so little about the complex dynamics of the full three dimensional oceans, the interactions of its currents at all levels and the thermodynamic variables layered on top of those formidable precursors.

Weather is not the same as climate (also for the 300th time here). Get that? An analogy that may be easier to grasp: a meteorlogist can stand on the beach and tell you the height of the next three waves; a climatologist can stand on that same beach and tell you that

5. But that's why we have science.

Refute any of the following with actual science, and we can talk:

1) The plant is warming, and rapidly.

2) That warming is due primarily--or even entirely to increasing concentrations of CO2.

3) Those increasing concentrations of CO2 are due primarily to man's activities.
>
Awesome arguments. Thanks.
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Quoting NRAamy:
where is STORMTOP when we need him?


ACK! Quick gimme the Fork.
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Quoting TexasGulf:
Join the Oil Industry. We're Pro-Earth! We want to HELP the earth by satisfying it's need for warming.


Company – 2008 data
Exxon Mobil Shell BP Chevron Conoco Phillips
Profits (millions)
$45,220 $26,288 $21,157 $23,940 ($16,830)
Amount invested in stock buybacks and dividends (millions)
$40,100 $13,307 $11,644 $8,000 $11,029
Investments in stock buybacks and dividends compared to 2008 profits
88.7% 50.6% 55.0% 33.4% ^ (see note below)
Amount invested in renewable energy (millions)
$10 $500 $1,500 $1,250 $650
Investments in renewable and alternative energies and efficiency compared to 2008 profits
<1% 1.9% 7.1% 5.2% ^ (see note below)
Contributions to federal candidates and parties for 2008 election cycle (millions)
$1.2 $0.3 $0.5 $1.0 $0.7
Lobbying in 2008 (millions)
$29.00 $3.3 $10.5 $14.5 $8.5

Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9874
Quoting atmoaggie:
Naked not-quite-swirl?


That would be the official terminology for it, yes.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26685
Quoting rod2635:
Meanwhile back on the topic of Greenland and climate:

1. It was warmer 125,000 years ago - hard to blame that on hominids. Maybe it isn't all about us, though vanity seems a particularly human trait.

2. Active stations in Greenland reported similar warmth in the 1920's and 1930's...there were less than 2 billion of us then vs 6 billion now

3. We are emerging from what some term the Little Ice Age of the period from the early 1300s to around 1850, so one might just expect things to be warmer as a result.

4. With a predictive accuracy on short term weather forecasts under 50% after 3-4 days it seems a bit presumptious to forecast sea level conditions 100 years hence when we know ever so little about the complex dynamics of the full three dimensional oceans, the interactions of its currents at all levels and the thermodynamic variables layered on top of those formidable precursors.

5. But that's why we have blogs.

1. It was warmer 125,000 years ago - hard to blame that on hominids. Maybe it isn't all about us, though vanity seems a particularly human trait.

For perhaps the 300th time here: it's not just the rise in temperature, it's the speed with which it's now occurring. There's absolutely no evidence of such rapid heating. Ever.

2. Active stations in Greenland reported similar warmth in the 1920's and 1930's...there were less than 2 billion of us then vs 6 billion now.

When ice many tens of thousands of years old is melting now, there's a really good chance it didn't melt in the 1920s or 1930s.

3. We are emerging from what some term the Little Ice Age of the period from the early 1300s to around 1850, so one might just expect things to be warmer as a result.

Actually, as has been thoroughly dissected, we should be substantially cooler than we are. Your theory, then, holds as much water as a sieve.

4. With a predictive accuracy on short term weather forecasts under 50% after 3-4 days it seems a bit presumptious to forecast sea level conditions 100 years hence when we know ever so little about the complex dynamics of the full three dimensional oceans, the interactions of its currents at all levels and the thermodynamic variables layered on top of those formidable precursors.

Weather is not the same as climate (also for the 300th time here). Get that? An analogy that may be easier to grasp: a meteorlogist can stand on the beach and tell you the height of the next three waves; a climatologist can stand on that same beach and tell you that

5. But that's why we have science.

Refute any of the following with actual science, and we can talk:

1) The plant is warming, and rapidly.

2) That warming is due primarily--or even entirely to increasing concentrations of CO2.

3) Those increasing concentrations of CO2 are due primarily to man's activities.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13625
Quoting doorman79:


Do a loop on ponchy. Been like a train for hours now. I had to go help some neighbors get out.
Strawberry ponchy? Yeah, been raining hard for a while now over there.

What, better than 2 inches per hour most recently?

Hitting 5 inches rain, most of that since about 2 pm.
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Quoting Levi32:


Original surface vortex spinning away to the southwest. Any surface low will have to reform to the northeast where the upper divergence is.

Any chances of organization are pretty small considering the system is under a 60-knot jetstream.
Naked not-quite-swirl?
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Quoting atmoaggie:
Ahh, the lovely sound of transformer pop from the front porch...

Apparently downstream. Or I'd not be here.


Do a loop on ponchy. Been like a train for hours now. I had to go help some neighbors get out.
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Quoting doorman79:


We have house flooding on our street!
Bummer.
And today is supposed to be the "light" precip day. Tomorrow should yield a solid couple of inches more.

A river nearby?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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