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)

    Texas may be trying to chage Ametican history books but they are also trying to rewrite the Bible as well.
    Maybe in the new one no mention of droughts and plagues or that a third of green things will be burned but these battered and well read versions in my room

    July 25, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Degrin

    Assuming the "Good Book" is the Bible and you are speaking of the ways of christianity, then you must be familiar with men sharing their "Love" with you. I bet you were even an alter boy when you were young. Your username is starting to make a lot of sense now.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. eooe

    Time to get to higher ground.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOsBs

      Better get ready to tie up your boat in Idaho

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

    A big study just came out a few days ago which stated that current projections are that between 27 and 52% of all species on Earth will go extinct because of this climate change, a level unseen since the Permian extinction. I don't see how humanity will survive. I worry for my children's children.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kez

      Yeah, I know 🙁

      July 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • skookumchuck

      Humanity will survive, but the costs will be great.

      One can deny global warming is real, but one cannot ignore it, nor avoid paying its costs.

      But it is important to note that the scientists who measured this event plainly say that it has happened before and that they cannot say it was caused by global warming.

      July 25, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      I think it may be our generation you need to worry about. He's just around the corner... not in some obscure place in Scientific time tables.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dscon

    this will be proven as a scare tactic.
    1, july IS the warming time for that lat.
    2, i doubt that this is a 4 day laps.....
    3, libs should just have the prez liquidate all who think differently...........
    and effectively "cull" the prob.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      "Think differently"... by... blindingly accepting the word of the people who shout "it's not true" and fabricate incredible conspiricy theories of the entire scientific community being out to trick us into beliving in climate change? Yeah, that certainly is "different", in the same sense that people who deny evolution think "differently".

      It only costs 32$ to read the paper for yourself, or free if you have access to a university subscription VPN. It's a Nature article, so your "I doubt that's a 4 day time lapse" would probably have been addressed by the reviewers who tend to know a lot more about the subject than you. In other words, yes, it's 4 days, unless you're accusing the researchers of fraud.

      So your choices are esentially "I accept the data presented to me in academic peer reviewed literature" or "I reject the data presented to me in academic peer reviewed literature". If you reject the data, then what do you use as the basis of establishing scientific fact? How do you get your science if not from the scientists themselves?

      July 25, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      dscon wrote:

      "this will be proven as a scare tactic. UH HUH. DON'T TELL ME. THE PHOTOS ARE FAKE, RIGHT?

      1, july IS the warming time for that lat. LIKE THIS?

      2, i doubt that this is a 4 day laps.....AH HA. WHAT DID I TELL YOU! FAKED PHOTOS. KINDA LIKE A BIRTH CERTIFICATE, EH?

      3, libs should just have the prez liquidate all who think differently...........and effectively "cull" the prob." YES. "LIBS' WILL SOON BE MARCHING IN FRONT OF THE WHITE HOUSE URGING OBAMA TO KILL PEOPLE WHO DON'T BELIEVE THAT SOMETHING IS GOING ON WITH THE CLIMATE.

      And who says our national dialog is that of 9 year old children? 🙂

      July 25, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Thermion7

    It sounds like there was a melt and(mostly) refreeze of nearly all of the surface ice at some point this summer.
    It will be interesting to see if this will become an annual trend or if it is the unique to the weather conditions this year.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. 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.
    We simply have had warmer climate before Industrialization. No Man Made Global Warming theory can deal with that reality.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • skookumchuck

      If you read the study you will see that the scientists clearly point out that it has happened before and that they cannot say it was caused by AGW.

      The scientists are honest. Are you?

      July 25, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Florida Bill

      Perhaps you should read about the industrial revolution and coal consumption....and how most European cities by that time had air filthier than we breathe now for the coal dust and emissions from burning coal....

      July 25, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. founders1791

    THINK, then think again.....what does this article actually prove? The seas have not risen and inundated Florida and New York City AT ALL the climate chicken little's have been crying about.

    Stick a fork in the radical socialist liberal madness, the lie is exposed, and the creepy people identified.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gege

      So what was your degree?

      July 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter


      Yah, all those NASA scientists are just socialist liberal madmen.

      On top of that, I look at this photo and I see absolutely nothing that makes me wonder if something isn't going on with the climate.

      Uh huh.

      July 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • skookumchuck

      Sea level is rising and Wall Street is only 1 meter above sea level.

      Sea level has fluctuated by over 100 meters over time. Do you think it will never change again? Where will the water go from the land based ice that melts? How much do the oceans expand as temperature increases?

      July 25, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • skookumchuck

      And no country has ever launched a nuclear attack against the USA as the chicken littles fear, so there must not be a need for the USA to have nukes.

      July 25, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jimmy

    a half a millimeter a year? damn that is a lot! that would cause the oceans to rise an entire foot in just 600 years! of course sea levels rose 500 feet after the last ice age w/o any help from man.

    July 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • skookumchuck

      It rose that much because of melting ice and warmer temperatures. Do you think it will not rise again as the ice melts and temperatures increase?

      July 25, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Florida Bill

      Reuters reports: In a year, according to the USGS, the sea level from north of Boston to North Carolina has increased 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year.

      July 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ken

    This is great news. It's real dry around here and we an use the extra water. As an added benefit those dirty cities on the coasts will get washed away .. who needs them anyway as they are nothing but piles of urban decay, twisted morals, and failed ideas. I say melt faster dang it!

    July 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Florida Bill

      Yes, enjoy drinking your salt water and try watering your crops with it.....

      July 25, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Disgusted

    Whistling in the dark.

    If most of the respected scientists are wrong, no harm/no foul. If they are right? Wingnuts on both sides will drown.

    Wait...what is the downside?

    July 25, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bill, Bloomington Il

    Why dont we just do what liberals want and spend all resources trying to change something we cannot change instead of spending our lives doing what we want.

    July 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • skookumchuck

      And if someone wants to dump raw sewage into your water supply, why should they be stopped ?

      July 25, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Zaphod2010

    Rare, really?
    Climate change anyone?????

    July 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Thermion7

    A single data point isn't a trend, much less 2 points. So either 'side' claiming this as irrefutable proof of anything is crazy.
    Science looks at data tries to determine if it is an anomaly, or trend... then formulate a hypothesis that explains the trend.

    So... If this occurs for the next 3 years and breaks the "once in 150 year cycle" then it becomes statistically meaningful in one direction... If it does not occur again for a century and a half... it becomes a part of the standard deviation.

    July 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • skookumchuck

      Good Post !

      July 25, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. formidablefoe

    It's man made but no by the fossil fuels or greenhouse gasses, it's the haarp systems around the world. Why has the bread basket of America getting hit with Arizona like weather that started last winter. Hardly any snowfall, then a record breaking warm, dry spring, and now a scorching dry summer. These are the first stages of depopulation. Welcome to the NW 0.

    July 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
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