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The Greenland Connection: What it means for the World

Jakarta, Indonesia

On the other side of the globe, low lying cities like Jakarta in Indonesia is already feeling the impact of steady sea level rise. Inch by inch, Jakarta is going under water each year, which is why the Indonesian authority had decided to shift their capital city to Kalimantan.


By Salam Rajesh


A recent study by scientists from NASA probed the ice belt of Greenland to understand how and to what extent ice melts in the icy continent can mean for the rest of the world. Tony Bartelme reflected a piece of the study in his reporting “Rising Waters: The Greenland Connection” (September, 2021) in which he saw the Greenland connection obviously having impacts elsewhere around the world.

The story begins with the deafening headline that Greenland’s ice is melting in a big way – big enough to worry the world community. Bartelme writes that the Greenland ice sheet normally melts in the summer, but in recent years the ice sheet is ‘melting faster now than it has in 12,000 years’. The alarm bell is being raised on the very fact that this melting ice has raised sea levels across the globe. The study showed that ice sheets in Greenland moves toward the ocean at 150 feet per day, ‘a pace that tripled during the 1990s and 2000s’.

The Greenland ice sheet is so massive that it generates its own gravity, the study scientists say, noting that ‘It pulls the Atlantic Ocean toward it like someone tugging a blanket. South Carolina is at the other end of this blanket, which means that Greenland pulls water away from the coast, lowering the sea level. But as the ice melts, its gravity disperses and its grip loosens. Seas at the far end of the ice’s power slosh back. That’s one reason sea levels in South Carolina have risen faster than many other places around the globe’.

Scientists across the globe have been saying all this while that ocean temperature is rising, up to 1.5 degrees since 1901. The fact that warmer water naturally expands means that more volume means higher sea levels, and more floods, Bartelme writes, noting that where the coastal city of Charleston typically saw one or two tidal floods a few decades ago, during the year 2020 alone the city experienced up to 68 flooding. In 2019, the city had experienced an all-time record of 89 flooding.

The NASA study is interesting in more than one ways since the finding explains how much the ice melts in Greenland impact other areas specifically in low lying countries. It had similarly been said that ice melts in large volume in the Arctic and in the Himalayas have huge potential to cause sea level rise which could submerge low lying regions in near future.

The study also looks at how corresponding climatic changes add ‘fuel to the fire’. Warmer air and water fuels more intense storms and hurricanes are intensifying more rapidly, the study author says. Hurricanes are forming earlier in the season and they are dumping more rain. During 2020, the overheated waters of the Atlantic spawned a record 30 storms, so many that forecasters began using Greek letters to name storms. This extra heat translates into a 27 percent increase in torrential rainstorms, the author writes.

Winter temperatures rose 8 degrees during the past 30 years, and summer temperatures are 3 degrees higher, the study warned, indicating that the warmer weather thawed the permafrost, making buildings from Greenland to Alaska sink and tilt. Correspondingly, the melting ice exposed land that had been covered for thousands of years.

The impact has been quite visible, the study authors say, pointing out that seas rose about 1.4 inches in the 1990s, and forewarned the impending impacts in future times. ‘But then the pace accelerated, up 2 inches in the 2000s, 2.7 inches in the 2010s. Now, it’s on pace to rise more than 3 inches this decade, and the pace only speeds up after that’, they cautioned.

Adding spice to the concern, the NASA scientists say that since the year 1992 nearly 5 trillion tons of Greenland ice has entered the ocean, raising sea levels about half an inch globally. They assumed that ‘just like turning on a faucet raises the water level in a tub, melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica raised sea levels uniformly across the globe’, and predictably called this “the bathtub model”.

Their study results showed that ‘Greenland’s melting ice had by far the biggest gravitational impact on Charleston’s sea level – more than Antarctica and much more than all the world’s melting mountain glaciers. It showed that gravitational losses in Earth’s ice during the next 10 years would add half an inch of sea rise here, with 40 percent of it coming from Greenland’.

The pulls and pushes on these analyses assume alarming situation for the world community when a climatic phenomenon in a specified location resounds its impact across continents. The reading is that collective anthropogenic influence on the Earth’s atmosphere through diverse negative actions cause chain reactions that ultimately rebounds on the humans themselves.

The study’s abstract finding is hard selling on the future of the blue planet and humanity. ‘Greenland’s ice dome locks up a huge amount of freshwater, roughly as much as all the rivers and lakes in the Northern Hemisphere combined, including the Great Lakes – half of the freshwater this side of the equator. But Greenland’s glaciers are melting six to seven times faster today than 25 years ago, with upward of 5 trillion tons of ice going into the oceans since then’, the report says.

At this rough calculation, the ice melt from Greenland is enough “to cover the entire United States with nearly 2 feet of ice”, and “that melted ice alone raised seas by nearly half an inch”, the study forewarned. Every half inch of sea rise means 6 million additional people around the world experience regular floods – a situation that residents in low-lying areas of Charleston, Miami, Norfolk, Va., and other coastal cities know only too well, Bartelme quotes the NASA scientist doing the Greenland study.

On the other side of the globe, low lying cities like Jakarta in Indonesia is already feeling the impact of steady sea level rise. Inch by inch, Jakarta is going under water each year, which is why the Indonesian authority had decided to shift their capital city to Kalimantan. Jakarta would soon be wiped out from the global political map. So would Venice in Italy in a future time soon. The tragedy is too hard for people in general to sink into, given the context that debates on climate change is not seriously taken in many quarters.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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