Alarming, above-average ice loss in Greenland due to rising temperatures

A new study suggests that Greenland’s northeast ice stream, located 600km to the interior of its ice sheet is thinning because of warming temperatures.(iStock)
An undated file photo of the Greenland ice sheet. Satellite images published by NASA show the drastic changes warm weather has had on the continental glacier. (iStock)

Satellite images from NASA show the dramatic difference warm July temperatures had on Greenland’s ice sheet.

Two images (see below) were published on the American space agency’s blog of Greenland’s Frederikshåb Glacier located in the island’s southwest.

“The changes are the result of the increasing warmth of summer weather that took hold across the region in late June,” NASA said.

“That’s when warm southwesterly winds and clear skies significantly enhanced the amount of melting on the ice sheet, especially toward the island’s south.”

NASA’s Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 satellites orbit over the earth and gather approximately 1,500 images every 24 hours. 

On June 14, the Landsat 8 gathered the below image of the Frederikshåb Glacier:
June 14 image. The Frederikshåb Glacier is known as a piedmont glacier, one that flows out through a mountain valley and then spreads out on flat, low land. (NASA)

The glacier descends from the Greenland Ice Sheet and then expands as it reaches the coast.

But the June 14 image is in stark contrast to the below Landsat 9 image gathered on July 24:
July 24 image. NASA described the loss of surface snow seen as a “dramatic reduction.” (NASA)

“More than halfway through the 2023 melting season, Greenland has seen a substantial transformation of its snow cover,” NASA said.

“Melting has been above average for much of the season, including on several days in June and July when melt was detected across 800,000 square kilometers (302,000 square miles)—up to 50 percent—of Greenland Ice Sheet’s surface,” it continued, citing the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

NASA said the amount of “dirty ice’ on the July 24 image compared to the June 14 image was a result black carbon and particulate dust gathering on the ice, a further contributes to melt.

“As the snow and ice melt, these impurities are left behind,” NASA said. “Darkening of the ice surface lowers its albedo, which can hasten melting through the absorption of additional solar energy in the summer months.”

Melt ponds

The amount of melt ponds in the July image compared with June, are also significant, the agency said, and can help gauge the intensity of Greenland’s melting period from May until the beginning of September.

“Only a few melt ponds are visible in the July 24 image, possibly because meltwater had already run off the ice sheet or been channeled down through the ice,” NASA said. “However, abundant melt ponds were visible about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Frederikshåb on July 8.”

The July 8 Landsat 9 imagery showing melt ponds north of Frederikshåb:
Melt ponds form in areas where snow has melted and gathered in depressions on the ice sheet. (NASA)

“The drama of unprecedented melt in 2012 may not be exceeded this year,”  Christopher Shuman, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County, glaciologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

“But so far, 2023 looks to be a big, broad melt year.”

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Hot and dry July saw temperature records topple in the Yukon, CBC News

Norway: Polar heat record. July average above 10°C, The Independent Barents Observer

SwedenHigh risk of wildfires in many parts of Sweden, including North, Radio Sweden

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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