A group of scientists have used data provided by NASA as part of a new study to show how the massive Greenland ice sheet, the second-largest body of ice on Earth, is vanishing. Scientists expect the study’s results to help improve predictions of the future of the entire Greenland ice sheet and its contribution to sea-level rise.
According to the scientists' findings, Greenland could lose ice more rapidly in the near future than previously thought. The Greenland ice sheet covers about five times the size of New York state and Kansas combined. And, if the ice sheet melts completely, oceans could rise by up to 20 feet, causing extensive damage to coastal areas from Florida to Bangladesh.
“The great importance of our data is that for the first time, we have a comprehensive picture of how all of Greenland’s glaciers have changed over the past decade,” Beata Csatho, an associate professor of geology at the University at Buffalo, and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
As part of the study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists used satellite data at nearly 100,000 locations across Greenland from 1993 to 2012. The study found that the ice sheet shed about 243 gigatons of ice every year from 2003 to 2009.
Previous studies have used the activity of four Greenland glaciers -- Jakobshavn, Helheim, Kangerlussuaq and Petermann -- to forecast the movement of ice into the ocean. But, the new study shows that activity at these four locations may not be representative of what is happening with other glaciers across the ice sheet.
“There are 242 outlet glaciers wider than 1.5 km on the Greenland Ice Sheet, and what we see is that their behavior is complex in space and time,” Csatho said. “The local climate and geological conditions, the local hydrology -- all of these factors have an effect. The current models do not address this complexity.”
The new study examined areas of rapid ice-melt in southeast Greenland, which previous studies did not focus on, leading Csatho to believe that the Greenland ice sheet could lose ice faster in the future than suggested by earlier studies.
“These studies represent new leaps in our knowledge of how the ice sheet is losing ice. It turns out the ice sheet is a lot more complex than we ever thought,” Tom Wagner, program scientist for NASA’s cryosphere program in Washington, said in a statement.