Greenland’s Meltwater: Europe’s Next Little Ice Age?

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In February 2015, the Guardian published an article which stated that atmospheric warming is capable of reaching thousands of meters below Greenland’s ice sheet, potentially increasing the glacier’s rate of flow and creating pools of “meltwater” trapped below the ice. As a result, Greenland’s meltpools are contributing to rising sea levels. Cornell University Geologist Michael Willis and Ohio State University Glaciologist Ian Howat authored the report, on which the Guardian story is based, and Penn State University Earth Scientist Patrick Applegate confirmed it.

While it is positive that independent media outlets are reporting on the effects of climate change, there is one aspect to this story that has possibly been overlooked by them all. Back in 2012, the Smithsonian published an article outlining a study, lead by University of Bristol’s physical geographer Jonathan Bamber, concerned that the meltwater pools will release into the Atlantic and slow, or entirely shut down, the Atlantic Conveyor Belt gyre that transports warm water from the Caribbean to the North Atlantic. A 2013 article published in Forbes by American lawyer and policy analyst Peter Ferrara, pointed out that this potential shutdown is feared to cause the next Little Ice Age over Europe, as historically proven when the melted ice inland of North America broke out 19,000 years ago. A 2010 NASA report by Alan Buis, speculated the exact same phenomenon, stating that the worst-case scenario may not be a dramatic ice-age-like period, but would definitely lead to a harsher and colder climate on Europe’s coastal regions. A similar study recently published in Nature Climate Change, conducted by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, confirmed all of the above concerns. The Washington Post published a summary of the journal article stating “we’re looking at a circulation that’s about 15 to 20 percent weaker. That may not sound like much, but the paper suggests a weakening this strong has not happened at any time since the year 900.”

Concern should be focused on Greenland’s rapid, dramatic, and speedy glacier melts, as profiled in Jeff Orlowski’s 2012 film “Chasing Ice.” Greenland’s massive ice sheet contains the only body of trapped meltwater currently capable of slowing or shutting down the gyre.

This year, litters of independent news organizations have been eager to report on recent studies of climate change and rising sea levels. However, US corporate news media have chosen to focus solely on the debate over the existence of climate change. For example, the New York Times published a report in which the author, Justin Gillis, discussed how climate change deniers dislike the way in which they are addressed, and ignored the issue of climate change itself. That US corporate media are downplaying the melting of large glaciers, including especially those in Greenland, is alarming considering the potential effects on our global society if such a catastrophic event were to spiral out of control.

Source: Tim Radford, “Greenland’s hidden meltwater lakes store up trouble,” The Guardian, February 5, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/05/greenlands-hidden-meltwater-lakes-store-up-trouble.

Student Researcher: Elora Malama West (Burlington College)
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (Burlington College)