Greenland’s ice sheet lost a record amount of mass last year, according to a study published on Thursday, a finding that could prompt scientists to redefine their worst-case scenario as they assess the effects of climate change.
The rate of ice loss had slowed for a two-year period amid cooler summers and higher snowfall in western Greenland through 2018. But last year, as warm air flowed northward from lower latitudes, the frozen island experienced a record loss in its ice mass, geoscientist and glaciologist Ingo Sasgen of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany said.
That loss of 532 gigatons of ice – equivalent to about 66 tons of ice for each person on Earth – was 15% more than the previous record in 2012.
Greenland’s ice melt is of particular concern, as the ancient ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels by at least 20 feet (6 meters) if it were to melt away entirely.
The study adds to evidence that Greenland’s icy bulk is melting more quickly than anticipated amid climate warming. Another study last week indicated the island was no longer getting enough annual snowfall to replace ice lost to melting and calving at the glaciers’ edges.
“We are likely on the path of accelerated sea level rise,” Sasgen told Reuters. “More melting of the ice sheet is not compensated by periods when we have extreme snowfall.”
The study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, used data collected by satellites to the gravitational force of the ice mass, which scientists can use to calculate how much snow and ice is locked within.