GREENLAND’S ice sheet lost a record 532 billion tonnes of ice last year, the equivalen of a million tonnes a minute, satellites have revealed.
The Arctic is heating at double the rate seen in lower latitudes, and the Earth’s melting ice cap is the biggest single contributor to the rise in sea level.
Satellites have been tracking the shrinking ice since 2003 and last year’s loss was double the annual average. Snowfall in Greenland was also low last year meaning relatively little new ice was added.
Scientists knew that ice loss from Greenland has accelerating fast but said the scale of the 2019 loss was shocking and likely to be the worst in centuries. If the entire Greenland ice sheet melts, sea levels will rise by six metres (19ft).
Researchers said it was not certain that the sheet had passed the point of no return and that cutting carbon emissions will slow the melting, which will take centuries to complete.
Warm air stuck over Greenland caused almost 96% of the ice sheet to suffer melting at some point in 2019, compared with an average of 64% between 1981 and 2010.
Ingo Sasgen, who led the analysis said: “It was really shocking and depressing in terms of the numbers. But it’s also not very surprising, because we had other strong melt years in 2010 and 2012, and I expect we will see more and more.”
He added: “If we look at the record melt years, the top five occurred in the last 10 years, and that is a concern. But we know what to do about it: reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
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