Satellites reveal rare levels of Greenland ice melt
Satellite data show Greenland surface melt on July 8, left, and July 12. "Melt" is dark pink; "probable melt" is light pink.
July 25th, 2012
12:40 PM ET

Satellites reveal rare levels of Greenland ice melt

Nearly all of Greenland’s ice cover at least temporarily melted at the surface during an unusually warm stretch in mid-July - a level of melting not seen there in 123 years, NASA said.

In an average summer, melting happens on about half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet, which covers most of the land and is an average 1 mile thick.

But an unusually strong ridge of relatively warm air - hovering just above freezing for several hours at the highest elevation - rapidly accelerated melting this month, and satellites showed that an estimated 97% of the surface had melted at some point by July 12, NASA said.

While some of that melt water freezes in place, some of it is lost to rivers and the ocean – and mid-July’s melting caused river flooding that threatened a number of bridges, said Tom Wagner, NASA’s cryosphere program manager in Washington. (The flooding has been captured on a number of YouTube videos, including this one.)

Where this falls in the larger context of Greenland’s changing ice cap - scientists say it is shrinking and causing ocean levels to rise, with warming ocean waters causing ice on the periphery to be lost through melting and rapid flow - is a complicated question, NASA says.

Ice core samples show that the surface melting seen this July happens once in about every 150 years, and the last such melt happened in 1889, NASA said.

“It could be that this melt event is caused by normal variations that just happen once in a while,” Wagner said by phone Tuesday.

So, Wagner said, one can’t attribute July’s melting to global warming, but the melting must be digested with this in mind: that "warming is causing the loss of ice all over Greenland, and the Greenland ice sheet is shrinking."

Wagner said Greenland has lost 150 gigatons of ice per year over the last 20 years, and its shrinking cap contributes up to half a millimeter a year to global sea-level rise. Researchers haven’t determined how much of mid-July’s melt refroze or went into the ocean, NASA said.

The July 8-12 melting happened days before an island of ice twice the size of Manhattan broke off from Greenland’s Petermann Glacier on July 16. But with glacier calving attributed to ocean temperature, not the more quickly fluctuating air temperature, no one is linking the calving to July’s melting of surface ice, Wagner said.

July’s melting "combined with other natural but uncommon phenomena, such as the large calving event last week on Petermann Glacier, are part of a complex story,” Wagner said in a news release. “Satellite observations are helping us understand how events like these may relate to one another as well as to the broader climate system.”

July’s melting was detected by three satellites - the Indian Space Research Organization’s Oceansat-2, and NASA’s Terra and Aqua.

July 18, 2012: Massive ice island breaks off Greenland glacier

May 4, 2012: Greenland ice melt could raise seas less than feared, study says

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Filed under: Greenland • Science • Weather
soundoff (263 Responses)
  1. Mike

    New Orleans is sinking, and I don't wanna swim . . .

    July 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      ...
      And those left in the water
      Got kicked off our pant leg
      And we headed for home...

      July 25, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Send in the clowns.

      Please Gubberment come rescue me.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. anon

    this make complete sense when you understand the FACT that magnetic north has migrated some 1500 miles south into Siberia. Earth's weather patterns rotate around magnetic north. So if magnetic north is moving south at ~40 miles per year (and it certainly is, just pull out a compass or look at weather rotation patterns) the weather will change all over the place. Just go watch the polar weather satellites and see how far the circulation has shifted south. This winter will be another terrible one for Europe and slightly warmer for the US. It's not my effin car or man made climate change, there has been some physical shifting of the earth itself. Call me a crackpot all you want, but the science and data all support exactly what I just said. Oh, and there's ZERO we can do about it until we figure out how to rotate the earth artificially.

    July 25, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • IAMBeowolf

      Crackpot

      July 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Physics

      Charged particle trajectories are affected by magnetic field lines. Neutral particle trajectories are not. I'm sure the magnetic field has some affect on the weather (since lightning is a result of charged particle separation), but insignificant compared to greenhouse gasses, Earth's rotation, Earth's orbit, angle of Earth's rotational axis, Corriolis effect, ocean currents, mountains, ground cover, surface water, etc. . When it comes to weather, I don't think the shift in the magnetic field is a significant factor.

      July 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blinders-r-us

      Right, just keep telling yourself this

      July 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • CosmicC

      I guess you don't know the difference between the rotational pole and the magnetic pole. Nice try, but a clean miss. Would you like to play again?

      July 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Balihoo

      Weather does not rotate around the magnetic pole. It rotates, if around anything, around the pole of axis.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buck

      Everything you just said doesn't prove or disprove that humans haven't at least had some influence on the climate. Just because one thing is influencing the environment doesn't mean that something else can't ALSO be influencing it.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • FactChecker

      You might want to check your facts. The magnetic north pole is still located above the Arctic Ocean to the north of Canada. Man-induced global warming is universally accepted among educated scientists.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thermion7

      are you high?
      its coordinates:85° 54′ 0″ N, 147° 0′ 0″ W (western hemisphere – canada side) by 4.5°... less than 300 miles from the physical North Pole

      July 25, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ryan in Texas

    "Ice core samples show that the surface melting seen this July happens once in about every 150 years, and the last such melt happened in 1889, NASA said."
    Wait, where was the CO2 120 years ago? And about every 150 years before that? IT CANNOT POSSIBLY BE MAN MADE GLOBAL WARMING CAUSING THE ICE MELT.
    This new evidence is a crushing refutation of man made global warming theories.

    July 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • CosmicC

      How about reading the article again. It clearly states that they are not attributing a single event like this to global warming. That does not mean it is or isn't associated with global warming, just that you can't tell for this one event YET. Look at the big picture and you'll see what is frightening sane people and causing people like you to bury your head in the sand.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • A

      Please explain how one single event being caused by something other than global warming completely refutes global warming. Your logic is flawed.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • KGColorado

      Well, no, it isn't a crushing blow to the global warming theories. It is but another thing we must worry about – a catalyst to our problem, if you will. The increase in the excretion of greenhouse gases have created much worse climates for the Earth. And I hate to be one of those people who refute anothers' opinion, but only a fool would think otherwise.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thermion7

      That is a failed argument. It's like saying Smoking is healthy... because George Burns smoked and lived to be 99... and yet Anne Frank never smoked a cigarette and was dead by age 15.

      July 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TSB8C

    Now they can grow more food crops and graze more livestock. This is great news!

    July 25, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. HIDE BEHIND

    While the state of Maine is a little off topic, a few hundred miles, they in Maine will welcome the heat.
    If you listen to them talk you can tell that they have been " Freezing their R's off" for years.

    July 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TheMan

    This is the most important part of the article.

    “It could be that this melt event is caused by normal variations that just happen once in a while,” Wagner said by phone Tuesday.

    So, Wagner said, one can’t now attribute July’s melting to global warming,

    July 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. uysfl

    oh my god, oh my god, we're all going to die!

    July 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • CosmicC

      Yes. Everyone dies eventually. For those most vulnerable, many will die sooner. That includes those who depend upon water sources that are disappearing, such as east Africa, those who live in low lying areas that are being consumed by rising oceans (already happening in low lying islands in the Pacific), those who rely on coral reefs for food, and those in temperate climates that are becoming tropical, allowing the spread of tropical diseases beyond traditional boundaries.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. joe

    The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire.

    Revelation 16:8

    July 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • texcal68

      Joe, Revelation like the other 26 books in the New Testament are pure mythology. Humans created God. Your invisible friend in the sky doesn't exist. Sorry!

      July 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Justme2323

    The article states Greenland has ice sheets that are on average, 1 mile thick. There is no way that 5000 feet of ice will melt in one summer, by July. I have seen 25 foot mounds of snow in parking lots last a month above freezing. So either the article is wrong about the average thickness of ice, or the pictures have been computer generated (designed/doctored) to show the melting. Either way the article and story are designed to get people alarmed. Try just giving the facts, without computer generated photos next time.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • kenny of salt

      the article is talking about melting on the surface of the sheet, not the entire sheet melting away
      Peace

      July 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • CosmicC

      The surface of the ice melted. The article does not say anything about the entire mass of ice, just the surface. That probably amounts to a couple of inches of slush, most of which froze probably was in a daily freeze/thaw cycle.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • A

      The colors indicate where *some* melting has occurred. They do not represent a total absence of the ice sheet.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      ... or, maybe it's just another miracle
      that will be ignored, passed off as
      nonsense and it's message will fall
      on deaf ears. Humility, where can it
      be found? In the hearts of men. I can
      only hope that man can find himself in
      God's bosom...

      Turn, turn.

      😀

      Thanks, CNN!

      July 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lanfear

    Cool. Maybe people can live there soon 🙂

    July 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • History Bear

      The last non-natives to live there were vikings and the advent of a mini ice age altered the climate and they died off or moved. Of course that takes a 100 years or so. If Greenland continues to melt, regardless of cause, things are going to get interesting. Would you and the others like to invest in some Arkansas beach front property?

      July 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill the realist

    Oh chicken little where art thou the sky is falling.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. nathaniel

    Global Warming is a hoax. All I see here is a new place to vacation (for the m0r 0ns, this is sarcasm.)

    July 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dave

    It is never possible to attribute a weather event to climate change. That's because weather is chaotic. Climate is the average over numerous chaotic events. Climate is surprisingly constant. The average annual global temperature between 1850 and 1930 was -0.25°C plus or minus 0.35°C (total variation). The average temperature has been above 0.1°C (the highest value recorded value between 1850 and 1930) every single year for the last 15 consecutive years. This is a 0.5°C increase. This is clearly climate change.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Aerocog

    The Earth is indeed warming but if we're causing is another argument and if we can even stop it or even should stop it is something entirely.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Trey Parker

    Manbearpig has been spotted on every continent this year.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
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