Greenland ice sheet experienced record melt in 2010
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."
| January 20, 2011; 7:19 PM ET
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