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Melting ice sheet stuns and alarms scientists

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 27th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In a development that has stunned and alarmed scientists the world over, the Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history. Captured by cameras mounted on satellites, rapid melting was noted along the entire ice sheet. The photos have deepened fears about the future consequences of climate change.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In a statement posted on NASA's Web site, scientists admitted that they at first thought there had to have been a mistake.

"This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?" Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said in the release.

Dorothy Hall, who studies the surface temperature of Greenland at NASA's space flight center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said that Greenland experienced unusually high temperatures in mid-July, with widespread melting over the surface of the ice sheet.

Confirming the melt as recorded by the satellites were climatologists Thomas Mote, at the University of Georgia, and Marco Tedesco, of the City University of New York.

"I think it's fair to say that this is unprecedented," Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center told reporters.

The set of images released by NASA this week show a rapid thaw between 8 July and 12 July. Within that four-day period, measurements from three satellites showed a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40 percent of the ice sheet surface to 97 percent.

The sudden melt has been attributed to a heat dome, or a burst of unusually warm air which hovered over Greenland from July 8 to 16. Mote noted that Greenland had returned to more typical summer conditions by July 21 or 22 July.

The unprecedented event should be viewed along with other compelling evidence of climate change.

"What we are seeing at the highest elevations may be a sort of sign of what is going on across the ice sheet," he said. "At lower elevations on the ice sheet, we are seeing earlier melting, melting later in the season, and more frequent melting over the last 30 years and that is consistent of what you would expect with a warming climate."

About half of Greenland's surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but Zwally said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the last few decades.

He said he had never seen such a rapid melt over his three decades of nearly yearly trips to the Greenland ice sheet. Zwally was alarmed to see indications in the images of melting even around the area of Summit Station, which is about two miles above sea level.

It was the second remarkable event in Greenland in a matter of days, after an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann glacier.

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