Europe's record heat wave moves toward Greenland, threatening world's 2nd largest ice sheet

Europe's record heat wave moves toward Greenland, threatening world's 2nd largest ice sheet

The hot air that smashed European weather records this week looks set to move toward Greenland and could take the world’s second largest ice sheet close to or below record low ice levels set in 2012, the United Nations said on Friday.

Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the UN World Meteorological Organization, said the hot air moving up from North Africa had not merely broken European temperature records on Thursday, but surpassed them by two, three or four degrees Celsius, something she described as “absolutely incredible.”

“According to forecasts, and this is of concern, the atmospheric flow is now going to transport that heat towards Greenland,” she told a regular UN briefing in Geneva.

“This will result in high temperatures and consequently enhanced melting of the Greenland ice sheet,” she said. “We don’t know yet whether it will beat the 2012 level, but it’s close.”

Melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, a key part of the global climate system, would lead to rising sea levels and unstable weather.

Greenland had not had an exceptional year until June, but its ice had been melting rapidly in recent weeks, she said, citing data from a Danish climate scientist.

“In July alone, it lost 160 billion tonnes of ice through surface melting. That’s roughly the equivalent of 64 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Just in July. Just surface melt — it’s not including ocean melt as well.”

Greenland’s ice sheet covers 80 per cent of the island and has developed over many thousands of years, with layers of snow compressed into ice. 

The dome of ice rises to a height of 3,000 metres and the total volume of the ice sheet is approximately 2,900,000 cubic kilometres, which would raise global sea levels by seven metres if it melted entirely, according to the Polar Portal website.

The warmer air also had implications for Arctic ice extent, which as of July 15 was nearly the lowest on record, Nullis said.

She said increasingly frequent and intense heat waves were linked to manmade climate change.

“What we saw with this one was that temperature records weren’t just broken, they were smashed.”

She cited a study by Britain’s Met Office that found by 2050, record-breaking heat waves would happen every other year.

CBC | Technology News

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