According to the study, the melting steadily and steadily until the mid-19th century, but in the 20-21 century the pace has accelerated. In the last 20 years, however, melt intensity has increased by up to 575 percent in comparison with the pre-industrial rates.
Published today in Nature, the research finds that rates of melting at Greenland's surface have skyrocketed in recent decades and are now far out of bounds of what was considered natural variability over the last few centuries.
'The melting and sea-level rise we've observed will be dwarfed by what may be expected in the future'. "As a result, Greenland melt is adding to sea level more than any time during the last three and a half centuries, if not thousands of years", Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University's School of Earth & Environment and former postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said in a statement. "We found a 50 percent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era, and a 30 percent increase since the 20th century alone".
Scientists have been observing a colossal ice sheet in Greenland shrink at an unprecedented rate due to global warming. The team was then able to use modern, precise measurements of melt and correlate those measurements with the pattern seen in the ice cores, which allowed them to estimate what melt at lower elevations across the island would have looked like in each year recorded in the high-elevation cores.
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The report comes after naturalist Sir David Attenborough warned the collapse of civilisations and extinction of much of the natural world "is on the horizon" without urgent action to tackle climate change. Instead of escaping the ice sheet, the short-lived meltwater forms icy bands that stack up layers of densely packed ice over time. Ice core samples were brought back to the labs at the U.S. National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Denver, Colorado., WHOI in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Wheaton College in Norton, Mass, and the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.
At lower elevations, meltwater simply runs off the ice sheet, but at higher elevations some percolates down through porous, compacted snow called firn before refreezing to form layers not unlike the growth layers found in trees. Dark bands running horizontally across the cores record the strength of the melting for a given year. Hence, the region could be the largest contributor to the rising sea level, more than any region across the globe.
"Even a very small change in temperature caused an exponential increase in melting in recent years", she said. Another noteworthy aspect of the findings is how little additional warming it now takes to cause huge spikes in ice sheet melting.
In the wake of October's dire report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that civilization has just more than a decade to stave off climate catastrophe, Thursday's report spells more bad news for the planet, especially the millions of people living near the world's oceans.