Brussels, 13 Apr 2004
A team of European scientists has warned that global warning could lead to the disappearance of Greenland's entire ice cap within 1,000 years, and the subsequent drowning of coastlines around the world.
According to Jonathon Gregory from the UK's University of Reading and Philippe Huybrechts from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, the meltdown is probably now unavoidable.
Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists report that an average annual warming in the region of 2.7 degrees Celsius would mean that the rate of melting would outpace annual snowfall. The process will 'probably be irreversible this side of a new ice age,' write Drs Gregory and Huybrechts.
Greenland has the world's second largest ice cap. It comprises 2.85 million cubic kilometres of ice. Computer models of climate change showed temperatures in Greenland rising by 2.7 degrees Celsius in 34 out of 35 possible scenarios, while many predicted warming by more than eight degrees. In a worst-case scenario, temperatures will rise by eight degrees Celsius every year and sea levels will begin to rise by seven millimetres per year.
Some researchers have questioned these predictions, saying that ice loss may depend on more complex factors such as ice flows. Some say that the melted ice will make the North Atlantic less salty, perhaps triggering a collapse of the Gulf Stream. This could cool the climate over Greenland and possibly halt the melting.
Regardless of whether or not the situation is really as dire as this latest research suggests, the melting of glaciers has been a reality for the past three decades. Over the last 30 years, the Arctic Ocean icepack has thinned by more than 30 per cent, and has been shrinking by an area equivalent to the Netherlands every year.