Greenland’s Summer Mega Melt

 Extent of surface melt over Greenland's ice sheet on July 8, 2012 (left) and July 12, 2012 (right), melting shown in pink: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory and Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI and Cryospheric Sciences LaboratoryExtent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on 08 July 2012 (left) and 12 July 2012 (right), melting shown in pink: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory and Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI and Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory Satellites recorded an unprecedented rate of ice sheet melt in Greenland this month. Over the course of four days in July virtually the entire surface melted—an area larger than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations.

On average about half the surface area of the ice sheet melts in summer. But between 08 and 12 July 2012 the melt spread from 40 percent to 97 percent of the Greenland ice sheet.

A researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena was analyzing radar data from the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Oceansat-2 satellite last week when he noticed that most of Greenland appeared to be melting.

The extreme melt coincided with a heat dome over Greenland—one of a series of unusually strong ridges of warm air dominating Greenland’s weather since May. Each successive ridge has been stronger than the previous one this summer.

Atmopsheric carbon dioxide measurements at Summit, Greenland, 1985-2010: NOAA | Earth System Reserach LaboratoryAtmospheric carbon dioxide measurements at Summit, Greenland, 1996-2010: NOAA | Earth System Research Laboratory

Even the NOAA observatory Summit Station in central Greenland—2 miles (3.2 kilometers) above sea level and near the highest point of the ice sheet—showed signs of melt. Such widespread thawing has not occurred since 1889, according to ice-core analyses.

“Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time,” said Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data. “But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.” 


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

payment methods

We Recommend