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Posted at 7:19 PM ET, 01/20/2011

Greenland ice sheet experienced record melt in 2010

By Juliet Eilperin

A new record was set last year for the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, according to a paper published Friday in Environmental Research Letters, suggesting one of the world's biggest potential contributors to sea level rise could be an even more significant factor than previously thought.

"This past melt season was exceptional, with melting in some areas stretching up to 50 days longer than average," said Marco Tedesco, the paper's lead author and the director of the Cryosphere Processes Laboratory at the City College of New York. "Melting in 2010 started exceptionally early at the end of April and ended quite late in mid- September."

While the eight researchers from the U.S., Belgium and Holland do not provide a specific estimate for how much melting took place in 2010, which has tied 2005 as the warmest year on record, they write an analysis of several different data sources "paints a portrait of strongly negative surface mass balance during 2010."

The scientists examined surface temperature anomalies over the Greenland ice sheet surface, as well as estimates of surface melting from satellite data, ground observations and models.

They noted that summer temperatures up to 5.4 Fahrenheit above average, along with reduced snowfall, helped contribute to the high level of melt. As bare ice was exposed earlier and for longer than in previous years it absorbed more heat from the sun, creating what is known as an "albedo" effect in which melting is accelerated.

In an e-mail, Tedesco noted that he and his colleagues estimate based on computer modeling that runoff in 2010 is 530 gigatons a year, compared to a 1958-2009 average of 274 gigatons a year and a 1979-2009 average of 285 gigatons a year.

Different aspects of the study were funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund.

WWF climate specialist Dr. Martin Sommerkorn said in a statment that the findings had serious implcations for rising sea levels worldwide.

"Sea level rise is expected to top three feet by 2100, largely due to melting from ice sheets," Sommerkorn said. "And it will not stop there - the longer we take to limit greenhouse gas production, the more melting and water level rise will continue."

The new findings come as conservative House Republicans are pressing to cut federal fuding for international climate change initiatives. The Republican Study Committee budget plan released Thursday includes a provision to "eliminate taxpayer subsidies to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" which it says will produce a "$12.5 million annual savings."

By Juliet Eilperin  | January 20, 2011; 7:19 PM ET
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The Greenland ice sheet contains approximately 3 million gigatons of ice. At the 2010 melt rate of 530 gigatons per year, it will last about 6,000 years. At the average previous melt rate of 275 gigatons per year it will last about 11,000 years.

There is no reason to believe that the ice melt rate will continue to be either of those two rates. The future will most likely hold lower and perhaps higher melt rates. We have plenty of time to adapt if the melting continues.

I note that the melting did not continue after the Medieval Climate Optimum, and see no reason to believe that this warm period has any cause other than those that gave us warm periods every 1,500 years or so for the past 10,000 years.

Martin Summerkorn’s claim that “the more melting and water level rise will continue" is unwarranted and most probably wrong. He has no evidence that carbon dioxide is causing the ongoing climate warming, and neither does the IPCC. He bases that claim solely on unreliable numerical fit models that can reasonably well hind cast the climate for the past 100 years, but have no predictive value. The models contain about 2-dozen arbitrary parameters and are similar to the polynomial model, which contained 16 arbitrary parameters, that a group of graduate students used to draw an elephant.

It is my understanding that the US government spends about $11 million per day on climate research. Yes, $11 million per day. I too, think that is excessive.

Posted by: snorbertzangox | January 21, 2011 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Complete bullpucky, snorbertzangox. To say the IPCC or anyone lacks evidence that CO2 drives the observed warming is simply not true.

The hindcast models you refer to are indeed powerful evidence of CO2's contribution. There is no model that lacks humanity's emissions that better explains the pattern, so until you or some other enterprising researcher publishes a better explanation, it is reasonable and proper to conclude CO2 is the major culprit. And they do have predictive power, it is just that you and other armchair denialists dislike the implications of those predictions. Sure, there is always room for improvement, but even crude projections can be useful as we plan for future climate disruptions.

Couple the hindcast model results with the fact the atmospheric CO2 concentrations have not been this high in over 600,000 years, and that we understand very well the physical heat-trapping properties of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and the burden of proof shifts decisively to the denialist to explain how humanity can continue releasing carbon that has been safely sequestered for hundreds of millions of years without any consequence. We've released this ancient buried sunshine in a matter of a couple hundred years in the case of coal and petroleum, and a few thousand years in the case of oxidized soil organic matter. If you want to convince the thinking world that there are no consequences to this, then you need to get busy and actually do (and publish) the science, rather than use blog comment sections to obfuscate and confuse the issue.

Posted by: keith38 | January 23, 2011 10:07 AM | Report abuse


Do you intend to publish my response to keith38, or do you intend to censor me.

Posted by: snorbertzangox | January 24, 2011 12:10 PM | Report abuse


I seem to have my answer. You posted my inquiry, but have not posted my response to keith38. That response was reasoned, technical analysis, which contained zero invective and zero second guessing of the motive or character of anyone.

If you will not post that, then you will not publish anything of value that contradicts your preconceived notion of the subject.

I shall waste no more of my time on this site.

Posted by: snorbertzangox | January 24, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Dude, if you actually have a "reasoned, technical analysis" that is of any value, then submit it to any one of the relevant scientific journals so that the scientific world may benefit from your deep insight. A newspaper comment section (i.e. the court of public opinion) is NOT the proper place for such a valuable nugget of knowledge.

Once your technical analysis has been peer reviewed and published, then I'm sure WAPO and other media outlets will be happy to report on your radical new discovery that CO2 does not trap solar radiation. The world will thank you for your great contribution to our understanding of physics, the Nobel committee will surely be notified, and policy makers around the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Oh, and all the oil, coal, and gas interests will be happy, too. I for one am really looking forward to your paper.

Posted by: keith38 | January 24, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

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