Subtropical Waters Reach Greenland

Graphic by Jack Cook, courtesy Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Subtropical waters are reaching Greenland’s glaciers, driving melting and likely triggering an acceleration of ice loss. It’s the first time researchers have seen such warm waters in any Greenland fjord.

Warming air temperatures, combined with warming sea temperatures, attack glaciers from both above and below, hastening their demise. Greenland’s ice sheet—two miles thick and the size of Mexico—has lost mass at an accelerated rate over the last decade, doubling its contribution to sea level rise.

Oceanographer Fiamma Straneo, tells the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

“Among the mechanisms that we suspected might be triggering this acceleration [of glacial melt] are recent changes in ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which are delivering larger amounts of subtropical waters to the high latitudes.”

Deep inside the Sermilik Fjord, researchers found subtropical water as warm as 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). The team also analyzed data collected by 19 hooded seals tagged with satellite-linked temperature depth-recorders. The seals’ data revealed not only that shelf waters warm seasonally from July to December, but also that subtropical waters are now present on the shelf year round.

“This is the first extensive survey of one of these fjords that shows us how these warm waters circulate and how vigorous the circulation is,” says Straneo. “Changes in the large-scale ocean circulation of the North Atlantic are propagating to the glaciers very quickly—not in a matter of years, but a matter of months. It’s a very rapid communication.”

The study in Nature Geosciences highlights how little is known about ocean-glacier interactions—a connection not currently included in climate models.
 

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest