Greenland Is Literally Cracking Apart and Flooding the World
Visit on the right summer day, and you could see a 12-billion-gallon lake disappear before your very eyes. Glaciologists saw this happen for the first time in 2006, when a lake drained away into nothing in less than 2 hours. Researchers now see such events as a regular part of Greenland’s increasingly hot summer routine; every year.
On a recent expedition, however, researchers saw an alarming new pattern behind Greenland’s mysterious disappearing lakes: They’re starting to drain farther and farther inland. Lakes that drain in one area produce fractures that cause more lakes to drain somewhere elsewhere.
As the draining water surges away from the original lake, it can destabilize other nearby ice beds. Fresh cracks form, new lakes drain and the reaction intensifies day by day. In one incident, the researchers observed 124 lakes drain in just five days. Even lakes that formed hundreds of kilometers inland, which were previously thought to be too far removed from the ice bed to drain into it, proved vulnerable to the chain-drain-reaction as new fissures in the ice formed.
This all amounts to billions of gallons of melted ice plunging below Greenland’s surface every few days. Some of this water remains trapped in the ice sheet; much of it pours into the surrounding ocean.
The ice sheet, which covers 1.7 million square kilometers [650,000 square miles], was relatively stable 25 years ago, but now loses one billion tons [900 million metric tons] of ice every day. This causes one millimeter of global sea level rise per year, a rate which is much faster than what was predicted only a few years ago.