Next century's most important place in the world--Greenland?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:58 PM GMT on December 21, 2007

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If one had to pick the region of the world most likely to influence the course of human history this century, the Middle East would be the obvious choice, due to its political volatility and rich oil resources. However, the Middle East may have a significant challenger next century from a seemingly unlikely place--Greenland. Why Greenland? Well, the Greenland ice sheet holds enough water to raise global sea level 7 meters (23 feet). There are worrisome signs that the ice sheet might be more vulnerable than we thought to significant melting near the end of the century, according to research results presented at last week's annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. The meeting is the world's largest annual gathering of climate change scientists.

For climate change scientists, Greenland is clearly the most important place in the world. You could tell this by the way glaciers with unpronounceable names like "Kangerdlugssuaq" rolled off their tongues in a smooth, practiced manner at talks given at the AGU meeting. At least 120 presentations focused on the Arctic or Greenland, and fully 52 of these concerned Greenland. I attended roughly 20 of these talks, and most of the presenters made it clear that they were quite concerned about the future of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet, particularly in light of the astounding Arctic sea ice melt that occurred in 2007. A number of these talks raised the possibility that we've reached a tipping point in the Arctic. A complete loss of summertime sea ice may occur between 2013 and 2040, three of the presenters said, with the resulting warming dooming the Greenland ice sheet to a slow but inevitable melting process over a period of centuries. None of the presenters expressed the view that the current melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice was due to a natural cycle that would completely halt or reverse in the next few years or decades.

At a talk on "The Recent Arctic Warm Period", Dr. Jim Overland, an Arctic expert with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, didn't offer his view on whether a tipping point had been reached. Instead, he asked the audience to vote. The options he presented:

* A The melt back of Arctic sea ice observed in 2007 is permanent and will not lessen.
* B Ice coverage will partially recover but continue to decrease.
* C The ice would recover to 1980s levels but then continue to decline over the coming century.

Both Options A and B had audience support, but only one brave soul voted for the most conservative option C.


Figure 1. A research submarine breaks through the Arctic ice. Image credit: Bernard Coakley.

The latest news from Greenland
I was amazed see the tremendous breadth and intensity of research efforts focused on Greenland and the Arctic, presented at AGU. Extra funding has been given to research efforts as part of the International Polar Year (IPY) program, scheduled to run March 2007 through 2009. Satellites like Icesat and GRACE measure the extent of Greenland's ice from above, aided by a fleet of small and large research aircraft. Scientists now have unmanned aircraft that can use runways or be launched by slingshot that can measure the extent of Greenland's melt water lakes. The air armada will be joined next year by the Total Pole Airship, the first blimp used for Arctic studies. Manned and unmanned submarines measure the thickness of the sea ice surrounding the island, and both permanent and temporary bases dotted across Greenland and the polar sea ice house scientists doing land-based studies. Ships and buoys also add data from the ocean areas.

A short list of the results presented at AGU all point to an ice sheet in peril:

- Melting of snow above 2000 meters elevation on Greenland reached a new record in 2007 (Tedesco, 2007).

- Leigh Stearns of the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute showed that the contribution of Greenland melting to global sea level rise has doubled in the last five years. According to the 2007 IPCC report (see Figure 4.18), Greenland may account for as much as 10% of the total global annual sea rise of about 3-4 mm/year (approximately 1.5 inches per decade).

- Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) have warmed over 5° C (9° F) over the waters west of Greenland since 1990 (Figure 1, to the right). This has caused the ice-free season to increase by over 60 days per year along the coast.

- The Greenland ice sheet has experienced conditions as warm as those today in the past. Lowell et al. (2007) found organic remains in eastern Greenland that had just been exposed by melting ice, and dated these remains at between A.D. 800 to 1014. Thus, this portion of Greenland was ice-free about 1000 years ago, and temperatures were presumably similar to today's. Erik the Red took advantage of this warm period to establish the first Norse settlements in Greenland around 950 A.D. However, the climate cooled after 1200 A.D., and the Norse settlements disappeared by 1550.

For more information, see our new Greenland feature on our expanding climate change page.

Jeff Masters

References
Lowell, T.V., et al., 2007, Organic Remains from the Istorvet Ice Cap, Liverpool Land, East Greenland: A Record of Late Holocene Climate Change,, Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13A-04.

Stearns, L.A., and G.S. Hamilton, 2007, New States of Behavior: Current Status of Outlet Glaciers in Southeast Greenland and the Potential for Similar Changes Elsewhere, Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13A-06.

Tedesco, M., "A New Record in 2007 for Melting in Greenland," EOS, 88:39, 2007, 383.

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143. hondaguy
1:36 PM CST on December 21, 2007
I love how the weather has gone political here! LOL

Some of you crack me up with this stuff.

Posted a new blog, just a recap of today's and last nights weather here in the area.

Merry Christmas to you all...though I'm sure I'll still be around here that day too. lol
133. NEwxguy
7:19 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Astro,if you could send some of that up here in the northeast it would be greatly appreciated.
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131. Astrophysics
7:09 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Happy Winter Solstice to all!! Weather here in sunny Siesta Key, Sarasota, Florida is awesome.
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130. cchsweatherman
7:13 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
I second that NE. Just came home about an hour ago after volunteering at my former elementary school to help run the December Dash. You can only imagine all the screaming and complaining. Gave me a worse headache than learning this Dvorak technique.
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129. NEwxguy
7:11 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Needs some headon
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126. cchsweatherman
7:03 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Hey 456,
Thank you very much for all your information that you shared with me regarding the Dvorak technique. This will help me out significantly in terms of gaining knowledge to become an efficient meteorologist in the future. I will sit down and really study this information during my winter vacation and hopefully, there may be a storm in the Indian Ocean that I can begin to practice the skill on so that I can confirm with you that I understand the technique and apply it to my forecasting. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and I wish your family good health and good luck into the New Year.
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125. cchsweatherman
7:01 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
124. GulfScotsman 6:59 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
just like athiests want to ban any and all public displays of religion at the holiday's...

the ostrich right wing naysayers want to ban all of the obsession of the GREEN religion by spewiong anti-warming rhetoric and myopic science.

The greenies and their GOSPEL OF GORE fire back with cries of hereasy and threaten to burn the infadels at the stake.

The politicization of science and the lack of patients in observation, along with reasoned continuation of the scientific method makes this discussion... well honestly... kind of funny.


... popcorn anyone?


I love what you have to say GulfScotsman. That avatar fits you well. I could not have ended any better. I love to get a few laughs and there's one.
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119. cchsweatherman
6:32 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Just to let you all know, I will not be back on the blogs until Wednesday after this afternoon. I am going to take some time off this "weatherman" deal I have been doing around Cooper City. You wouldn't believe this, but I get calls almost every other night when I am sleeping for weather forecasts and information from high school friends and even teachers. It gets crazy for me sometimes, but I brought this upon myself.
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117. NEwxguy
6:31 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Looking out the window,I find tomorrow being the first day of winter,just a little humorous.
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116. NEwxguy
6:29 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
LOL,well Bone,that joke didn't go over to well did it??ROFL
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113. LakeShadow
6:21 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
you too, Weather456. Hope santa brings you s/th nice!
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112. LakeShadow
6:19 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
you too, Bone and everyone. Stay safe and happy.
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111. Weather456
6:14 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Seasons Greeting to: and all ur families

JP hurricane
Extreme
Bonedog
MSTL
Patrap
CCHWeatherman
H23
Lake
GSCTMAN
Eye
NEwxguy
Floodman
Baha
SLU

And many more...too numerous to mention.


Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
110. Bonedog
1:12 PM EST on December 21, 2007
Let me extend My Family's and My, Seasons Greetings and Well Wishes to All.

Merry Christmas to all of you and your families. Please have a safe, healthy, and happy New Year.
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109. Bonedog
1:10 PM EST on December 21, 2007
again we were joking this morning geeez. Have a little holiday humor.


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108. cchsweatherman
5:59 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Good afternoon all. Thank you very much Dr. Masters for yet another great update.

If I do not get the chance to later, I just want to wish everyone a safe and wonderful holiday season. I want to thank everyone for helping me in my pursuit to become a professional meteorologist. Everyone has helped me out no matter what you all think, even if you have given me harsh criticism in the past. I have taken in everything that people have written to me and taken that as part of my learning. It has been some invaluable knowledge. Discussing various topics on these blogs has just made me more interested in the field and has increased my desire to become a meteorologist. Thank you all very much.

CCHS Weatherman
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107. mcdonnell616
6:05 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
If anyone is interested in seeing the damage to western Washington I have included a link.

http://www.chronline.com/multimedia/slidesflood.php
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104. Patrap
12:03 PM CST on December 21, 2007
Happy Winter Solstice too..

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103. NEwxguy
5:55 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Good thing this isn't september
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101. Patrap
11:39 AM CST on December 21, 2007
Ahhh,Sept 2007..Link

The Boomerang GFDL..Link
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100. Weather456
1:24 PM AST on December 21, 2007
Largest wave heights are expected along the Carolinas and Georgia where the flow directed toward shore.






41013



Charlestown, SC
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
99. Bonedog
12:33 PM EST on December 21, 2007
LOL Pat could be. By now it would have circumnavigated the world, got caught up in a northerly flow by fijiwara around the supertyphoon then got draged west again through Alaska then swung down and made a right at Albuquerque instead of a left

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98. BahaHurican
12:33 PM EST on December 21, 2007
Yeah, Pat, she has been hanging around out there for a while . . .
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22305
97. seflagamma
12:35 PM EST on December 21, 2007
lol... yes, that sounds good, remains of Karen... hey but Ingrid never really died either!
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96. NEwxguy
5:33 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
94. Patrap 5:33 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Pablo could be a remnant of Karen regenerated...maybe.

LOL,Sure why not,Karen has been linked to everything in the tropics this fall.
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95. BahaHurican
12:23 PM EST on December 21, 2007
I. . . SSSay . . .

u guys are cracking me up over here . . .

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22305
94. Patrap
11:32 AM CST on December 21, 2007
Pablo could be a remnant of Karen regenerated...maybe.
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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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