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Disappearing ice sheets and glaciers

Arctic mountain glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet are undergoing record amounts of melting. The Greenland ice sheet — the vast slab of ice covering Greenland’s surface — contains 12 percent of the world’s land ice; if it melted completely, global sea level would rise by approximately seven meters (24 feet). As the Greenland ice sheet’s surface melts, great rivers of meltwater drain down to the bedrock through vast tunnels called moulins. The ice sheet is also discharging enormous chunks of ice from the glaciers that fringe its edges.

Meltwater is already increasing sea levels around the globe, [1] threatening to submerge and erode the Arctic shoreline at accelerating rates, jeopardizing species that use coastal habitats for breeding. In Alaska, coastal erosion rates have doubled in the past 50 years along the Beaufort Sea shoreline. [2] As land ice melts, the summer water source for many terrestrial species is disappearing, while the runoff is adding decades of accumulated contaminants into the coastal marine environment.

1. Lemke, P., J. Ren, R. B. Alley, I. Allison, J. Carrasco, G. Flato, Y. Fujii, G. Kaser, P. W. Mote, R. H. Thomas, and T. Zhang. 2007. 2007: Observations: Changes in Snow, Ice, and Frozen Ground. in S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K. B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H. L. Miller, editors. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis: Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA.
2. Jones, B. M., C. D. Arp, M. T. Jorgensen, K. M. Hinkel, J. A. Schmutz, and P. L. Flint. 2009. Increase in the rate and uniformity of coastline erosion in Arctic Alaska. Geophysical Research Letters 36, L03503, doi:10.1029/2008GL036205.

 

Polar bear photo © Jenny E. Ross/ www.jennyross.com