Melting the fear

Wednesday's Citizen carried an article titled "Earth's future is being written in fast-melting Greenland."

In the article we are told (in alarming language) that 53 billion metric tons of ice melted over a four-day period and that record temperatures are occurring.

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But, not surprisingly, there's a lot left out of the article. We are not told that the high temperatures are an anomaly, that two weather systems acted together to pull hot air up from Africa giving Europe a brief, brutal heat wave, and then pushed it northward over Greenland. It's a brief anomaly, not a long term change.

But 53 billion tons is a lot of ice loss, no question about it. Should we be alarmed?

Snow builds up on the ice sheet in the winter, and melts, sublimates, and is lost in icebergs in the summer. So this four-day loss tells us very little about the longer-term changes, what is called the "mass balance" of an ice sheet over an entire year or a longer period.

Greenland has been steadily losing ice, as can be learned from the research organization, ScienceNordic, which provide information from the Danish Meteorological Institute and Polar Portal on the state of Greenland's ice.

From the data, we learn that over the 1981-2010 30-year period, the mass balance for the Greenland ice sheet had an average net loss of 103 billion tons per year! Even scarier! How long can this go on?

Well, the Greenland ice sheet contains about 2,600,000,000,000,000 tons of water in the form of snow and ice. We're into the quadrillions here.) Just to lose half of it by melting at a rate of 103 billion tons per year would take about 12,500 years.

That hardly sounds like an imminent threat.

Will it keep melting at that rate? From 1981 to 2012 it melted, but since then it's been increasing until this year's African heat wave anomaly, which is highly unlikely to be repeated annually.

And let's keep in mind that Greenland overall is still considerably cooler than 1,000 years ago when the Norse settled there and farmed for 500 years before the cooling climate forced them out. The graves of their dead are still encased in permafrost.

Articles such as the one that appeared in The Citizen are intended to frighten us with misleading information. There's no reason for concern over Greenland's ice sheet.

Art Betke

Prince George

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