New study reveals Greenland’s glaciers losing more ice than thought

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. (iStock)

A new study examining almost 40 years of data reveals that Greenland’s glaciers have lost more ice than previously thought.

“Our results indicate that, by neglecting calving-front retreat, current consensus estimates of ice-sheet mass balance have underestimated recent mass loss from Greenland by as much as 20 per cent,” the paper’s authors say.

The research, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, was done by crunching 236,328 observations of the end points of glaciers—some from researchers doing physical or visual data collection, and some from AI—from the period of 1985  to 2022.

They then used this information to create map representations of the ice sheet for every month in the period.

Afterward, they studied the maps to identify patterns in the way the ice sheet expanded or reduced in size. 

‘What we found surprised us’

The U.S.-based researchers then observed that, solely due to the edge’s retreat since 1985, over 1,000 gigatonnes of ice were lost. This represents an additional 20% loss that hadn’t been previously considered

“What we found surprised us,” the authors said in a Nature research briefing about their work.

“First, the Greenland ice sheet has lost appreciably more ice in recent decades than previously thought. Previous assessments of Greenland’s ice loss have considered only the losses that were caused by melt and increased ice flow (glacier movement) and have not accounted for losses at the edge of the ice sheet that resulted from glacier terminus retreat.”

A tour group gathers near meltwater running past the retreating Russell Glacier, part of the Greenland Ice Sheet, on September 09, 2021 near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The paper’s authors say their other key finding was that the glaciers that were the most sensitive to warming temperatures were the glaciers that had the most significant changes in size during the seasons, growing in winter and shrinking in summer.

The researchers say the ice loss observed in their findings isn’t enough to make a difference in rising sea levels worldwide, but that it could impact ocean current and how heat is spread around the world.

With Greenland continuing to transform, the authors say they’re gearing up for further investigation.

“The next step is to use our observations of glacier terminus retreat in a model to understand how Greenland’s changing landscape might have primed the ice sheet for further contributions to sea-level rise.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: “Our climate is changing before our eyes,” says WMO upon release of new report, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Melting of Greenland glacier generating its own heat and accelerating thaw from base, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Natural event seems to slow Icelandic glacier melt, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Bering Sea ice at lowest extent in at least 5,500 years, study says, Alaska Public Media

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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