Not So Happy Earth Day

Over the past three decades, the rate of ice loss from Greenland has increased sevenfold. Photograph by Kerem Yücel / AFP / Getty

On yet another Earth Day, whatever those two words mean together in tandem these days, a message from a reliable source:

It’s Earth Day—and the News Isn’t Good

New reports show that ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than anticipated, and other disasters loom.

The Greenland ice sheet is, quite literally, a relic of the last ice age. It consists of snow that fell year after year, century after century, and never melted; at the very bottom, there are flakes that fell more than a hundred thousand years ago. The ice sheet is so enormous—at its center, it’s more than ten thousand feet tall—that it creates its own weather, which is one of the reasons it survives and also one of the reasons it’s so vulnerable. As the world warms, the ice sheet is shrinking, and, as it shrinks, it’s losing elevation. At lower elevations, the air is warmer, so it shrinks more, and the cycle continues.

Just in time for Earth Day, a team of scientists funded by nasa and the European Space Agency has released the results of what might be thought of as the ice sheet’s latest checkup. The patient is not well. Over the past three decades, the researchers found, the rate of ice loss from Greenland has increased sevenfold. In one particularly warm year—2019—Greenland shed four hundred and forty-four billion tons of ice; these tons contained enough water to flood the entire state of California to a depth of three feet. Melt from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, too, the researchers found, has been accelerating; since the early nineteen-nineties, the rate of ice loss from West Antarctica has more than doubled. The new figures “are pretty disastrous really,” one of the scientists, Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute, told the Associated Press…

Read the whole essay here.

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