Climate Crisis

Greeland’s sea level problem is rising

By 2100, freshwater from three Greenland glaciers could raise sea levels more than previously thought.

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The findings, published this week in Nature Communications, show that under the worst-case scenario for greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels could rise by 9-15 millimeters or more by 2100.

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To better estimate how much sea-level rise we should expect by the end of 2100, a team of researchers looked to the past.

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The team investigated three of Greenland’s largest glaciers, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Kangerlussuaq Glacier and Helheim Glacier, which between them hold enough ice to raise sea level by about four feet.

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"Greenland began melting before Antarctica, so much focus has been on predicting how Greenland would change in the warmer climate that is coming," Anders Bjørk, a coauthor on the study, tells Inverse.

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The scientists studied old photographs of these glaciers and calculated how much ice they lost from 1880-2012.

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Global temperatures are expected to rise by 3.7 degrees C — four times as much as the temperature increase since 1880.

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That means just these three glaciers could add even more freshwater to oceans, rising sea levels more than 8 mm by 2100.

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That may not seem like much, but experts say that even a centimeter of sea level rise can threaten millions of coastal cities.

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"We have a tendency to think that year 2100 is very far into the future and that these distant changes does not affect us," Bjørk says.

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"But my grandfather told me stories of his childhood in the 1920s – that is a hundred years ago, and my own children and grandchildren will live to see 2100. It is not a distant future!"

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The Greenland ice sheet covers 656,000 square miles, or three times the size of Texas.

And if it were to melt completely, the global oceans would rise 20 feet.

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This new research will help us better understand how even just a few glaciers can contribute to the global ocean, so we can better prepare for an uncertain future.

Read more science and nature stories here.

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