CryoSat Reveals Dramatic Ice Loss From Greenland

Rivers streaking across the surface of Greenland's vast ice sheet. NASA

The best way to view the state of something is to take a big step back and look at it in its entirety. Man-made climate change is one such phenomenon that’s difficult to truly, viscerally comprehend, and only by looking at the bigger picture does its full extent become clear. With this in mind, the European Space Agency (ESA)’s CryoSat orbiting high above us has taken a remarkable series of images of Greenland, showing just show quickly its ice cover is disintegrating.

Between 2011 and 2014, Greenland – which features the second-largest ice sheet in the world – lost around one trillion tonnes (1.1 trillion tons) of ice. This is equivalent to 3 million Empire State Buildings, or the mass of 35,000 Statue of Liberties every single day.

The way CryoSat measures this is by using an instrument called a radar altimeter, which can detect the slightest changes in the height, and therefore thickness, of the ice at an incredibly high resolution. Combining this data with a cutting-edge regional climate model, an international team of researchers have produced the most detailed, up-to-date, and accurate description of Greenland ice cover loss in the world.

According to their Geophysical Research Letters study, this ice loss is equivalent to roughly 0.75 millimeters (0.03 inches) of sea level rise per year, which is twice the average of the preceding 20 years.



Greenland's dramatic ice loss between 2011 and 2014. ESA

“CryoSat's radar really brings into focus our view of the ice sheet, revealing which glaciers are exhibiting the greatest signs of change,” lead author Mal McMillan, a researcher at the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, said in a statement. “This helps us to study Greenland's individual outlet glaciers, which in turn allows us to better understand the contribution they have made to global sea-level rise.”

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