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Global Warming Slices & Dices Greenland

This image, acquired by one of the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites on 29 June 2023, shows melting ice trails in northern Greenland. A remarkable heatwave in Greenland is causing extensive melting conditions throughout the northern ice sheet. Wikimedia Commons.


CLIMATE WATCH -Northern Greenland is under attack by global warming at the same time as delegates to COP28 heap praise on a purported landmark deal to transition out of fossil fuels but beware of the true meaning behind the language. Its disingenuousness is a stamp of approval for much more climate upheaval imprinted onto one more UN Conference of the Parties, COP flop.

According to Dr. Friederike Otto of Imperial College London: “The lukewarm agreement reached at COP28 will cost every country, no matter how rich, no matter how poor. Everyone loses. It’s hailed as a compromise, but we need to be very clear what has been compromised. The short-term financial interests of a few have again won over the health, lives and livelihoods of most people living on this planet.” (COP28: Landmark Deal to Transition Away from Fossil Fuels Agreed- As It Happened, The Guardian, Dec. 13th 2023)

Down to Earth’s publication d/d Dec. 14, 2023 hit the nail on the head re COP28: “Despite the hottest summer in 120,000 years, the oil, gas, coal, and farming companies that are heating the planet can continue to expand production for the foreseeable future.”

Meanwhile, new research has identified extremely disturbing deep trouble brewing in Greenland: Three of eight major ice shelves in the northern region have collapsed or retreated, leaving five ice shelves as gigantic corks holding back major glaciers from rapidly flowing into the sea, in turn, raising sea levels beyond comfort levels. The three biggest are Petermann, Ryder, and Nioghalvfierbrae. This threesome alone equals 3.6 feet of sea level rise. (Source: Alarming Collapse of Greenland Ice Shelves Sparks Warning of Sea Level Rise, LiveScience, November 2023)

A separate study by Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences/The University of Texas found Greenland’s glaciers melting 100 times faster than previously thought. (Source: K Schulz, et al, An Improved and Observationally Constrained Melt Rate Parameterization for Vertical Ice Fronts of Marine Terminating Glaciers, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 49, Issue 18, Sept. 20, 2022)

Moreover, according to the Oden study: “The melting of the Greenland ice sheet is a major predictor of sea level rise. This frozen stretch of glaciers is the second largest on Earth and covers about 80% of the Nordic nation. If it melts entirely, as it did at the height of the Eemian interglacial period about 125,000 years ago, global sea levels could rise by 20 feet—or approximately 6.1 meters.”

An entire meltdown would take centuries, but we’re only concerned with the first several feet which will likely happen this 21st century, enough to flood coastal cities, for example, wiping out Miami Beach, unless Florida encircles the entire state with a gigantic seawall creating a medieval city/state moat.

For as long as anybody can remember, the eight ice shelves in the northern region of Greenland were always stable. However, stability has suddenly disintegrated, according to the report: “We show that since 1978, ice shelves in North Greenland have lost more than 35% of their total volume, three of them collapsing completely. For the floating ice shelves that remain we observe a widespread increase in ice shelf mass losses.” (Source: R. Millan, et al, Rapid Disintegration and Weakening of Ice Shelves in North Greenland, Nature Communications, November 2023)

There’s no emphasis required to know that COP28’s greenwashing compromise and the global warming threat to Greenland are not only interrelated but really bad news. And, once again, it exposes the hollowness of annual UN Conference of the Parties (COP) that should address the compelling issue of excessive CO2 emissions creating a blanket trapping global heat. Ipso facto, Greenland’s glaciers, 100 times faster, start filling up the oceans. This, in turn, creates the mystery of all mysteries as nobody knows how high, or when, sea level rise overwhelms coastal metropolises.  But based upon the feebleness of 30+years of COP meetings that are attended by world leaders (154 heads of state at COP28), it looks dismal.

Amongst the referenced ice shelves, the Peterman ice shelf is a focal point. It lies at the seaward end of a deep sub-ice canyon that could open-up ocean penetration into the center of the entire Greenland ice sheet. The initial step to such a horrifying prospect would be loss of Peterman’s ice shelf.

“Ice shelves are the parts of an ice sheet that float on the water, preventing glaciers on the land from slipping into and melting in the ocean, which would increase sea levels. If the glaciers the North Greenland ice shelves support were to collapse, sea levels could rise by nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters).” (LiveScience report)

Therefore, the Millan scientific analysis should raise eyebrows of policymakers to the necessity of immediate powerful mitigation measures, not mealymouthed halfway-commitments that are broadcast as “landmarks,” oh, please! Yet brokenheartedly, the recently concluded Dubai 28th annual UN climate conference did not address the issue of excessive CO2 emissions forcing increased warming, other than to stress “transitioning” out of fossil fuels pretty much on a ho-hum basis. This approach has not worked for more than 30 years of COP meetings, frustration reigns supreme. According to COP28 president Al-Jaber, COP28 is a “true victory,” but “his comments clash with reactions by scientists who have praised parts of the UAE consensus but criticized its vague, weak and caveated language on fossil fuels, which are the main cause of climate change.” (The Guardian, Dec. 13th)

As a result of decades of weak COPs, there’s a price to be paid: “We are heading toward an ice-shelf-free Northern Hemisphere.” (Millan) The implications are horrendous and impossible to describe and based upon the results of COP28, a major question going forward is whether adaptation measures, such as tall seawalls, can be erected ahead of rising sea levels?

The results of too much ocean heat (oceans absorb 80-90% of planetary heat) entering underneath the ice shelves has been studied in detail by scientists based at institutions in France, the US, and Denmark, using satellite data, ocean observations, and climate modeling to measure changes in the ice shelves’ spatial area and thickness. Grounding lines where the ice shelves come aground were evaluated. The areas where the floating shelves end, and the grounded glacier begins are retreating inland across nearly all the shelves, a key sign of weakening. This is a prime example of the nemesis of global warming fueled by rising CO2 emissions at work. COP28 was supposed to deal with issues like this. It did not.

As previously mentioned, Greenland’s ice shelf melt down is 100 times faster than expectations by the scientists, as of 2022. It’s literally impossible to drive a car 100 times faster than cruising speed; it cannot physically be done; yet humongous ice shelves are melting 100 times faster. It’s something to think about.

(Robert Hunziker, MA, economic history DePaul University, awarded membership in Pi Gamma Mu International Academic Honor Society in Social Sciences is a freelance writer and environmental journalist who has over 200 published articles appearing in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide.)

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