Greenland meltdown warning: World’s second largest ice sheet is melting far more quickly than previously thought – leaving 400 million people exposed to coastal flooding by 2100

  • Damning research predicts sea levels could rise more than two feet by 2100 
  • Scientists found ice sheet melting seven times more rapidly than it did in the 90s
  • Greenland ice melting will cause 100 million people to be flooded each year by the end of the century, scientists say  

Greenland’s rapidly melting ice sheet will put 400 million people living in coastal regions at risk of flooding by the year 2100 if it keeps up its current pace. 

An international team of scientists found it is melting seven times more rapidly than it did in the 1990s, putting a further 40 million people who live in coastal regions at risk. 

The damning research predicts sea levels could rise more than two feet (67cm) by the end of the century. 

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 Greenland’s rapidly melting ice sheet will put around 400 million people living in coastal regions at risk of flooding by the year 2100 if it keeps up its current pace. Pictured, a vast chunk of ice separated from the mainland in Disko Bay, Greenland 

Dr Louise Sime, climate scientist at British Antarctic Survey says: ‘This finding should be of huge concern for all those who will be affected by sea level rise. 

‘If this very high rate of ice loss continues, it is possible that new tipping points may be breached sooner than we previously thought.’

The latest figures state 40 million more people are at risk than data from the IPCC, a UN organisation evaluating scientific research on global warming. 

Dr Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds, said: ‘As a rule of thumb, for every centimetre rise in global sea level another six million people are exposed to coastal flooding around the planet. 

‘On current trends, Greenland ice melting will cause 100 million people to be flooded each year by the end of the century, so 400 million in total due to all sea level rise. 

‘These are not unlikely events or small impacts; they are happening and will be devastating for coastal communities.’ 

Around 100 scientists from 50 organisations surveyed the ice sheet between 1992 and 2018, using satellites to measure changes in volume, flow and gravity. 

It revealed that the nation has lost more than four trillion tonnes of ice since 1992 and every year for the last decade the shelf has shed 250 billion tonnes of ice – adding almost half an inch (10.6mm) to global sea levels.

Dr Bethan Davies, senior lecturer in Physical Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: ‘The research highlights how over the last decade, Greenland has become a major source of sea level rise, rivalling that from global glaciers, with increased surface melt, and increased glacier flow speeds, driving the ice loss.’

In 2013, the IPCC made several predictions about global sea levels based on different scenarios, with mid-range forecast pointing to a 60-centimetre rise by the end of the century. 

Outlet glaciers calving icebergs into the waters of Mogens Heinesen Fjord, Southwest Greenland. The latest figures state 40 million more people are at risk than data from the IPCC, a UN organisation evaluating scientific research on global warming 

Pictured, aerial photo of icebergs discharging from Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier. An international team of scientists found it is melting seven times more rapidly than it did in the 1990s. This increase threatens a further 40 million people who live in coastal regions

But the researchers say Greenland’s ice losses are instead tracking the IPCC’s worse-case climate warming scenario, predicting an additional 2.5-inch (7cm) rise in the sea levels on top of the IPCC’s estimates. 

Dr Andrew Sole, Lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘These new combined data show that the ice sheet’s contribution to global sea level rise has mostly been tracking the upper range of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s predictions. 

‘Even though it has ducked slightly below this in the last few years, initial observations indicate that 2019 was another high melt year across many parts of the ice sheet, suggesting this slight slowing in the rate of ice loss may be short-lived – and we may well remain on course for the IPCC’s worst-case scenario of 67cm of sea level rise by 2100.’  

Simulations showed that the rate of ice loss accelerated until 2013, after which it slowed down, coinciding with a period of cooler ocean and atmospheric temperatures. 

Analysis indicated a rise in air and ocean temperatures caused the surface ice to melt and increased glacial flow. 

According to the researchers, Greenland stores enough water to raise global sea levels by six metres and knowing how much of this ice is lost is key to understanding the effects and impact of climate change. 

The research is comprehensive and has received a positive response for how it was conducted and its role in outlining the catastrophic impact global warming is having on the ice sheet.  

Dr Sole said: ‘Measuring the mass of something as large as the Greenland Ice Sheet is extremely difficult and complicated.

‘The strength of the IMBIE study is that they have combined many different methods, models and satellite measurements over a common time period and area to create a dataset that minimises the impact of the individual uncertainties.’

Professor Jeffrey Kargel, Senior Scientist, Planetary Research Institute, Tuscon, Arizona, piled on the praise for the study. 

He said: ‘This valuable work by the IMBIE team appears to be very well done. 

‘They have carefully combined two different types of data- direct measurements of surface elevation change and measurements of total mass change, which allows the uplift or subsidence of the ice sheet bed to be accounted for. 

‘The authors’ results are consistent with what other people have reported, but this work achieves an improved level of accuracy.’  

HOW MUCH WILL SEA LEVELS RISE IN THE NEXT FEW CENTURIES?

Global sea levels could rise as much as 1.2 metres (4 feet) by 2300 even if we meet the 2015 Paris climate goals, scientists have warned.

The long-term change will be driven by a thaw of ice from Greenland to Antarctica that is set to re-draw global coastlines.

Sea level rise threatens cities from Shanghai to London, to low-lying swathes of Florida or Bangladesh, and to entire nations such as the Maldives.

It is vital that we curb emissions as soon as possible to avoid an even greater rise, a German-led team of researchers said in a new report.

By 2300, the report projected that sea levels would gain by 0.7-1.2 metres, even if almost 200 nations fully meet goals under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Targets set by the accords include cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in the second half of this century.

Ocean levels will rise inexorably because heat-trapping industrial gases already emitted will linger in the atmosphere, melting more ice, it said.

In addition, water naturally expands as it warms above four degrees Celsius (39.2°F).

Every five years of delay beyond 2020 in peaking global emissions would mean an extra 20 centimetres (8 inches) of sea level rise by 2300.

‘Sea level is often communicated as a really slow process that you can’t do much about … but the next 30 years really matter,’ lead author Dr Matthias Mengel, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Potsdam, Germany, told Reuters.

None of the nearly 200 governments to sign the Paris Accords are on track to meet its pledges.

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