Newly-released research shows wildfires and fossil fuel burning caused 97 percent of Greenland to be covered in ice melt water in 2012.
On Monday, Kaitlin M. Keegan of Dartmouth College and her colleagues reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that due to a combination of warming global temperatures and black carbon settling on Greenland’s ice caps, a massive ice melt occurred in Greenland in 2012.
Keegan and her colleagues believe that the reason the ice melt occurred that year is widespread wildfires coupled with fossil fuel burning from automobiles. She predicts that, along with the climate change which has resulted in increasing air temperatures, “further demise of the Greenland Ice Sheet” will occur.
The Indian Space Research Organization satellite Oceansat-2 observed on July 12, 2012, that the interior surface of the glacially-abundant island melted in just a couple of days. Even though ice remained under the melt, approximately 97 percent of Greenland was blanketed with melt water. It is estimated that if all of Greenland were to melt, the earth’s oceans would rise 20 feet.
This is not the first time that Greenland has had such a melt. The years of 1889 and 2012 indeed saw temperatures much above average. However, they were not the warmest years, like in 1785. But in ice core data from 1785, there is no sign of widespread melting. Scientists have found that warm air is not the only factor that causes glacier melting.
Another factor that contributes to melting is what scientists have dubbed “albedo,” or the measure of reflectance of snow and ice. The lighter color a surface is, the more it deflects the sun rays and thus temperature. The darker it is, the more rays it takes in from the sun, thus increasing the surface temperature. This is similar to how much hotter asphalt can be in the summer as opposed to concrete.
When fuels are not combusted completely, residual black carbon, or soot, is emitted into the air. The soot is spread throughout the earth but much of it ends up on Antarctica and Greenland, where large amounts of the world’s freshwater supply is located in the glaciers. The soot increases the absorbency of the sun’s rays and consequently melts a much larger amount of the ice.
Keegan points out with the atmosphere warming, it is more likely for uncontrollable and massive wildfires to spread, spiking the amount of soot onto the glacial caps of Greenland and Antarctica.