Scientists are now calling 2012 a “Goliath” year for Greenland melting. Earlier this summer, NASA reported that, by July 12, 2012, 97% of Greenland’s surface was experiencing thaw (that’s in contrast to only 55% of surface thaw as the maximum seen by satellites in the past three decades). By early August, the story had progressed further. On August 15, Earth scientist Marco Tedesco of the Cryosphere Processes Laboratory at City College of New York reported at his website GreenlandMelting.com that:
… the cumulative melting index over the entire Greenland ice sheet (defined as the number of days when melting occurs times the area subject to melting) on August 8 exceeded the record value recently set in 2010 for the whole melting season (which usually ends around the beginning or mid September).
In other words, by August 8, 2012, Greenland had experienced more melting than in the entire melting season of 2010, which previously held the record for the greatest amount of Greenland melting in one year.
The map above, right, shows that the extensive melting occurring all over Greenland, especially at high elevations. There, melting in Greenland lasted up to 50-60 days longer than the average this year. In other words, some of the areas at high elevations in south Greenland are generally subject to a few days of melting (if it happens at all). In 2012, they underwent melting for more than 2 months (so far).
Melting was extreme also in the west, northwest and northeast regions, Tedesco reported. Along the southwest coast melting does not appear to have been extreme.
At his website, Tedesco also explained how is this new record for Greenland melting is different from the one that happened in mid-July of 2012. He said:
The extreme melting detected at high elevations in mid-July (covering ~ 97 % of the Greenland ice sheet) generated liquid water that refroze after a few days, changing the physical properties of the snowpack but very likely not contributing to the meltwater that run offs from the ice and can potentially contribute to sea level rise. The event was exceptional in the sense that it is a rare event (imagine a postcard of Rio de Janeiro under a thin layer of snow !) …
The record set by the overall melting has implications on the meltwater that goes into the ocean … Also, the increased melting at higher elevations might remove the seasonal snow and expose more bare ice. The removal of bare ice (which is darker and the absorb more solar radiation and it is therefore more prone to melting than snow), is actually contributing to the net mass loss of Greenland. Seasonal snow is indeed part of the annual cycle (water from the ocean goes into the atmosphere which turns into cloud and it is released as snow which melts again and goes back to the ocean) where ice has been sitting there for decades or hundreds (and more) of years and it is therefore adding new ‘material’ to the cycle (e.g., the ocean).
You can read Ted Tedesco’s blog for yourself here: 2012 The Goliath melting year
Bottom line: By August 8, 2012, Greenland had experienced more melting than in the entire melting season of 2010, which previously held the record for the greatest amount of Greenland melting in one year.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.