Greenland's Ice Sheet Melting Faster than We've Ever Seen

It was just yesterday when we showed you what would happen if you got too close to a melting glacier in Greenland — a disturbing glimpse of what's becoming a regular fixture in that part of the world. And now, as we find ourselves having to endure yet another scorchingly hot July, new data from NASA indicates that Greenland's ice is indeed melting — but at a rate we've never seen before.

Recently released satellite images from NASA show that, during the first half of July, Greenland's surface ice melted more than at any other time since satellite records have been taken.

Looking at NASA's map, it appears that virtually every part of Greenland's ice sheet experienced some degree of surface thaw. And in fact, the data suggests that about 97% of the surface area melted at some point in July. NASA notes that summer thaws are normal — but not on this scale. In fact, when the meltage data first started coming in, the scientists thought it was an error. From their release:

"The Greenland ice sheet is a vast area with a varied history of change. This event, combined with other natural but uncommon phenomena, such as the large calving event last week on Petermann Glacier, are part of a complex story," said Tom Wagner, NASA's cryosphere program manager in Washington. "Satellite observations are helping us understand how events like these may relate to one another as well as to the broader climate system."

Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., 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 have undergone surface melting on July 12. Nghiem said, "This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?"

Nghiem consulted with Dorothy Hall at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Hall studies the surface temperature of Greenland using the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. She confirmed that MODIS showed unusually high temperatures and that melt was extensive over the ice sheet surface.

Their data showed that the melting trend was spreading quickly. On July 8, about 40% of the ice sheet's surface had melted, compared to 97% only 4 days later on July 12.

Top image via NASA.