Science Update: The Greenland Ice Sheet Can Melt Quickly


Washington Post, 15 March 2021: A forgotten Cold War experiment has revealed its icy secret. It’s bad news for the planet

Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States, 30 March 2021: A multimillion-year-old record of Greenland vegetation and glacial history preserved in sediment beneath 1.4 km of ice at Camp Century


Nature Bats Last, “Climate Change Summary” last updated 2 August 2016:

Glaciologist Jason Box, an expert on Greenland ice, agrees that the situation is dire. Box was quoted in a 5 December 2012 article in the Guardian: “In 2012 Greenland crossed a threshold where for the first time we saw complete surface melting at the highest elevations in what we used to call the dry snow zone. … As Greenland crosses the threshold and starts really melting in the upper elevations it really won’t recover from that unless the climate cools significantly for an extended period of time which doesn’t seem very likely.” (In January 2013, Box concluded we’ve locked in 69 feet — 21 meters — of sea-level rise.) A paper published in the 10 July 2015 issue of Science indicate a 1-2 C global-average temperature rise has contributed to rapid sea-level rise several times during the last 3 million years. Indeed, as stated in the September 2013 issue of Global Policy, “because of increasing temperatures due to GHG emissions a suite of amplifying feedback mechanisms, such as massive methane leaks from the sub-sea Arctic Ocean, have engaged and are probably unstoppable.” By December 2013, the disappearance of Greenland’s ice had accelerated to five times the pace of a few years previously, and IPCC was acknowledging they’d been far too conservative with past estimates. Continued conservatism is buttressed by research reported in the 16 March 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change indicating melting of Greenland ice accounts for about one-sixth of recent sea-level rise and also by research published in the 18 May 2014 issue of Nature Geoscience indicating Greenland’s icy reaches are far more vulnerable to warm ocean waters from climate change than had been thought. From the 12 November 2015 online issue of Science comes a paper titled, “Fast retreat of Zachariæ Isstrøm, northeast Greenland.” The abstract reads: “After 8 years of decay of its ice shelf, Zachariæ Isstrøm, a major glacier of northeast Greenland that holds a 0.5-meter sea-level rise equivalent, entered a phase of accelerated retreat in fall 2012. The acceleration rate of its ice velocity tripled, melting of its residual ice shelf and thinning of its grounded portion doubled, and calving is now occurring at its grounding line. Warmer air and ocean temperatures have caused the glacier to detach from a stabilizing sill and retreat rapidly along a downward-sloping, marine-based bed. Its equal-ice-volume neighbor, Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, is also melting rapidly.” A paper in the 18 November 2015 issue of The Cryosphere points out that as Greenland climate is now rapidly warming, summer melt intensity no longer oscillates around its long term mean, and instead previously exceptional events are becoming normal. A a paper in the 4 December 2015 issue of Climate of the Past indicates Greenland’s glaciers are retreating at least twice as fast as any other time in the past 9,500 years. The study also provides new evidence for just how sensitive glaciers are to temperature, showing that they responded to past abrupt cooling and warming periods, some of which might have lasted only decades. A study published in the 16 March 2016 issue of Geophysical Research Letters finds that climate models commonly used to simulate melting of the Greenland ice sheet tend to underestimate the impact of exceptionally warm weather episodes on the ice sheet. The study investigated the causes of ice melt during two exceptional melt episodes in 2012, which occurred 8-11 July and 27-28 July. During these exceptional melt episodes, which can be regarded as an analogue to future climate, unusually warm and moist air was transported onto the ice sheet. During one episode, the researchers measured the ice sheet melting at more than 28 cm per day, the largest daily melt rate ever documented on the ice sheet. While the two brief melt episodes only lasted 6 days combined, or 6% of the melt season, they contributed to 14% of the total melt.

Small fluctuations in the sizes of ice sheets during the last ice age were enough to trigger abrupt climate change,” as reported in the 13 August 2014 issue of Nature. As pointed out in the 25 September 2014 issue of Nature Communications, ice sheets melt for centuries once they begin the process.

Greenland is mentioned 32 more times in my “Climate Change Summary.” The rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet is listed in self-reinforcing feedback loops 6, 17, 40, and 42. This essay was last updated 2 August 2016.


Washington Post, 15 March 2021: Frozen fossil plant remains from the bottom of the Camp Century ice core (Andrew Christ)


Published Recently:

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Academic Pursuits. Woodthrush Productions, New York.


Recent peer-reviewed journal articles:

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Near-Term Loss of Habitat for Homo sapiens (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(4):216-218.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Means by Which COVID-19 Could Cause Extinction of All Life on Earth (pdf). Environmental Analysis & Ecology Studies 7(2):711-713.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Role of Conservation Biology in Understanding the Importance of Arctic Sea Ice (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(3):147-149.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Myth of Sustainability (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(3):117-122.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Trees Cannot Sequester Enough Carbon to Slow Abrupt Climate Change. Modern Concepts & Developments in Agronomy (pdf) 6(4). DOI: 10.31031/MCDA.2020.06.000641

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Earth is in the Midst of Abrupt, Irreversible Climate Change. Journal of Earth and Environmental Sciences Research 2(2).

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Will COVID-19 Trigger Extinction of All Life on Earth? (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(2)2:73-74.

McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Going Halfway: Climate Reports Ignore the Full Evidence, and Therapists Ignore Grief Recovery. Clinical Psychology Forum 321:28-31.

McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Becoming Hope-Free: Parallels Between Death of Individuals and Extinction of Homo sapiens. Clinical Psychology Forum 317:8-11. The full paper is linked here.


Books Published Recently:

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Another Voice Crying in the Wilderness: My Homage to Edward Abbey, in three formats:

Signed, inscribed edition (includes postage and handling within the United States). These copies will be signed by the author and inscribed to whom you wish (e.g., “To Bill and Jane …”).

Paper edition

Electronic edition


McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction. Woodthrush Productions, New York.


McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Going Dark. Woodthrush Productions, New York.


Pauline Panagiotou Schneider and Guy R. McPherson. 2018. Revised Second Edition of Ms. Ladybug and Mr. Honeybee: A Love Story at the End of Time. Woodthrush Productions, New York.


McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey. Woodthrush Productions, New York.


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