Greenland’s ice sheet melted at a record rate in 2019, with last year’s ice loss being at least 15% higher than the last record year, 2012, a study has shown. A massive 532 billion tonnes of ice was lost in the island country in 2019, said a report in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

Of this, Greenland lost around 223 billion tonnes of ice just in July 2019. Between 2003 and 2016, the country lost approximately 255 billion tonnes of ice each year, a comparison by CNN said. “What this shows is that the ice sheet is not only out of balance but it’s increasingly likely to produce more and more extreme loss years,” CNN quoted co-author of the study Ingo Sasgen as saying.

Due to severe Arctic warming, Sasgen predicted that the ice sheet will continue to lose mass at alarming levels. The ice sheet is the “largest single contributor to rising sea levels”, according to another study.

The report in Communications Earth & Environment attributed the unprecedented ice loss to high pressure systems that got blocked over Greenland last year when warm air from Europe moved northwards. High carbon emissions are also a contributing factor, and these emissions are rising each year.

The report said that this ice loss added around 1.5 mm to the global mean sea level, which is a huge increase. Danish climate scientist Martin Stendel said the Greenland ice sheet melt last year would be enough ice to cover the entire United Kingdom with around 2.5 metres of melt water, BBC reported.

Five years of record ice losses have been in the past decade alone.

Besides the implications of this on wildlife, the gulf streams and the climate, the rising sea levels are also a looming concern.

“If Greenland’s ice losses continue on their current trajectory, an extra 25 million people could be flooded each year by the end of this century,” BBC quoted Professor Andy Shepherd, lead investigator for the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise, as saying. “This means we need to prepare for an extra 10 cm or so of global sea level rise by 2100 from Greenland alone.”

Several countries including India have low lying cities and areas that will be flooded as sea levels continue to rise.

Sasgen, also a glaciologist at the Helmholtze Centre for Polar and Marine Research, said, “If you think about our civilisation in 2,000 years when the ice sheet has significantly shrunk and the sea level has risen by probably a few meters, our society will be regarded as the one that triggered this decrease in continental ice. It’s not only four years, or 10 years or 100 years, it’s a process that will continue for a very long time and we’re just seeing the start of it.”

Since the ’90s, the Arctic has warmed faster than any other part of the planet. Many scientists have linked this and the ice loss in the region with climate heating and rising temperatures.

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