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At a glance - Is Greenland gaining or losing ice?

Posted on 27 February 2024 by John Mason, BaerbelW

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "Is Greenland gaining or losing ice". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

fact myth box

At a glance

The interior of Greenland features a huge ice sheet that covers some 80% of that large island. Up to three kilometres thick, the sheet contains a whopping 2.9 million cubic kilometres of ice. If that all melted, global sea level would go up by around seven and a half metres. So it would obviously be good if that didn't happen.

Read any science about ice-sheets and you will soon run into a term that will become familiar: 'mass balance'. Mass balance is an expression of the health of any ice-sheet. Ice-sheets gain mass by snowfall and lose mass by 'ablation', a term covering sublimation, evaporation melt, and meltwater runoff, plus solid ice discharge by the glaciers that drain them. If the value for mass balance of an ice sheet is a positive number, the sheet is growing. But a negative value means the sheet is dwindling.

Since 1991, satellites have obtained continuous data on the Greenland ice-sheet, using radar, lasers and sensitive instruments that can detect changes in local gravity. Such methods allow mass balance to be calculated.

With over 30 years of satellite data now at our disposal, we can step back and look at the big picture. The Greenland ice sheet was close to a neutral state of balance in the 1990s. Since then however, annual losses have risen. One recent paper calculates that Greenland lost almost 4,000 billion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2018, adding almost eleven millimetres to global sea levels.

Reduction of ice mass balance has occurred for two key reasons. Firstly there is increased meltwater run-off. Have you seen imagery of bright blue pools connected to rivers, flowing across the surface of the ice-sheet, to disappear down into it in spectacular cascades? That's the run-off. Secondly, there is glacier instability - whereby glaciers speed up in their discharge of ice, ultimately to the ocean, with those videos of spectacular calving events many of you will have seen. In Greenland, it's thought that these two processes account for about half of ice-sheet loss each.

Of course, the rate of ice loss varies from year to year. It depends on weather patterns. A cooler year with a lot of snowfall will provide a considerable counter-weight to the loss processes. Then again, in June 2023 the temperature rose to 0.4oC at the Summit Station, a research facility situated 3,216 metres above sea level and near the high-point of the ice-sheet. That has only happened five times in the 34 years since the station was established. Like anywhere else, the year to year pattern is pretty varied: however it's the multidecadal trend that matters and that is very definitely downwards.

It never pays to pick short time-spans when discussing matters of long-term climate trends. Statements like the one by Christopher Monckton in the myth-box above, made in 2009, have simply been made invalid by the march of time.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Click for Further details

In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

Myths with link to rebuttal Short URLs
Ice age predicted in the 1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
CRU emails suggest conspiracy
What evidence is there for the hockey stick
CO2 lags temperature
Climate's changed before
It's the sun
Temperature records are unreliable
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
We're heading into an ice age
Positives and negatives of global warming
The 97% consensus on global warming
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening?
How reliable are climate models?
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?
What's the link between cosmic rays and climate change?
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?
Are glaciers growing or retreating?
Ocean acidification: global warming's evil twin
The human fingerprint in global warming
Empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming
How do we know more CO2 is causing warming?
Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works
The tricks employed by the flawed OISM Petition Project to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change
Is extreme weather caused by global warming?
How substances in trace amounts can cause large effects
How much is sea level rising?
Is CO2 a pollutant?
Does cold weather disprove global warming?
Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans?
How do human CO2 emissions compare to natural CO2 emissions?
Climate scientists could make more money in other careers
How reliable are CO2 measurements?
Do high levels of CO2 in the past contradict the warming effect of CO2?
What is the net feedback of clouds?
Global warming vs climate change
Is Mars warming?
How the IPCC is more likely to underestimate the climate response
How sensitive is our climate?
Evidence for global warming
Has the greenhouse effect been falsified?
Does breathing contribute to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere?
What is causing the increase in atmospheric CO2?
What is methane's contribution to global warming?
Plants cannot live on CO2 alone
Is the CO2 effect saturated?
Greenhouse warming 100 times greater than waste heat
How will global warming affect polar bears?
The runaway greenhouse effect on Venus
What climate change is happening to other planets in the solar system?
Has Arctic sea ice returned to normal?
Was Greenland really green in the past?
Is Greenland gaining or losing ice?


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