Europe’s record heatwave threatens Greenland ice sheet

UN body says hot air could cause record melting of world’s second-largest ice sheet

Snow-covered mountains rise above the harbour and town of Tasiilaq, Greenland. File photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Snow-covered mountains rise above the harbour and town of Tasiilaq, Greenland. File photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

 

The hot air that smashed European weather records this week looks set to move towards Greenland and could cause record melting of the world’s second-largest ice sheet, the United Nations said on Friday.

Clare Nullis, spokeswoman for the UN World Meteorological Organisation, said the hot air moving up from north Africa had not merely broken European temperature records on Thursday but surpassed them by 2, 3 or 4 degrees Celsius, which she described as “absolutely incredible”.

“According to forecasts, and this is of concern, the atmospheric flow is now going to transport that heat towards Greenland,” she told a regular UN briefing in Geneva.

“This will result in high temperatures and consequently enhanced melting of the Greenland ice sheet,” she said. “We don’t know yet whether it will beat the 2012 level, but it’s close.”

Ms Nullis cited data from Denmark’s Polar Portal, which measures the daily gains and losses in surface mass of the Greenland ice sheet.

“In July alone, it lost 160 billion tonnes of ice through surface melting. That’s roughly the equivalent of 64 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Just in July. Just surface melt – it’s not including ocean melt as well.”

Meanwhile, the Arctic is suffering its worst wildfire season on record, with huge blazes in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska producing plumes of smoke that can be seen from space.

The Arctic region has recorded its hottest June ever. Since the start of that month, more than 100 wildfires have burned in the Arctic circle. In Russia, 11 of 49 regions are experiencing wildfires.

Compressed

The Greenland ice sheet covers 80 per cent of the island and has developed over many thousands of years, with layers of snow compressed into ice.

The dome of ice rises to a height of 3,000m and the total volume of the ice sheet is approximately 2,900,000 cubic km, which would raise global sea levels by 7m if it melted entirely, according to the Polar Portal website.

Greenland had not had exceptional weather this year until June, but its ice had been melting rapidly in recent weeks, Ms Nullis said.

The warmer air also had implications for Arctic ice extent, which was nearly the lowest on record as of July 15th, she said.

She said increasingly frequent and intense heatwaves were linked to manmade climate change.

“What we saw with this one was that temperature records weren’t just broken, they were smashed.”

She cited a study by Britain’s Met Office which found that, by 2050, record-breaking heatwaves would happen every other year.

Separately, a British record high temperature of 38.7 degrees may have been reached on Thursday, provisional data from the Met Office showed on Friday.

Soaring

Soaring temperatures broke records in Germany, France and the Netherlands on Thursday. The Met Office had said that the second-highest temperature ever in Britain had been recorded in Cambridge, at 38.1 degrees.

However, on Friday, the agency announced a new provisional figure of 38.7 degrees, recorded at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

That would beat the country’s previous record high of 38.5 degrees, recorded in August 2003.

“The temperature recorded yesterday at Cambridge University Botanic Garden will require quality control and analysis over the next few days and, if validated, would become the highest temperature officially recorded in the UK,” the Met Office said in a statement.

– Reuters and Guardian