Polar researchers are baffled by watching Greenland’s ice sheet melt so fast.
In Greenland Spring thaw came exceptionally early this year. Warm, wet conditions rapidly kicked off the melt season very fast this weekend, more than a month-and-a-half ahead of schedule.
According to data released this week by the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), 50-degree Fahrenheit temperatures created a melt area that makes up 12% of Earth’s most northern ice sheet.
“We had to check that our models were still working properly” Peter Langen, a climate scientist at DMI, said in a blog post.
The previous top three earliest dates for a melt area larger than 10% all took place in May. The researchers reported that those dates were May 5, 2010, and May 8 in 2006 and 1990.
“Even weather stations quite high up on the ice sheet observed very high temperatures on Monday,” said Robert Fausto, a scientist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland who maintains melt data.
This is only the latest example of the impact of rapid global warming in recent years. The year 2015 was the hottest in recorded history. According to NASA data from this year, the Arctic experienced one of the mildest winters on record. The Arctic sea ice peaked at a record low of 5.607 million square miles this winter.
A giant glacier named Zacharae Isstrom in the northeast of Greenland is melting at such a fast rate that it could lead to a continuous sea level rise for decades to come, according to a NASA-funded report published in the journal Science in November.
Martin Stendel, a DMI climate scientist said on the organization’s website:
“It is a very unusual situation, especially so early in the year, with very cold air and deep low pressures system to the west and east of Greenland and very warm air forming a ‘cap’ over the island.”
“This helped to force a frontal system with very warm air up the west coast bringing rain over the ice sheet.”