'Fingerprint' discovery confirms alarming predictions of Greenland ice sheet melting

‘Fingerprint’ discovery confirms alarming predictions of Greenland ice sheet melting

Scientists now have unequivocal proof that a phenomenon essential to predicting the impact of climate change exists.

Researchers announced on Thursday that they had detected the sea level ‘fingerprint’ of the melting Greenland Ice Sheet, highlighting the unique pattern of sea level change linked to melting ice. .

This is the first time that such a fingerprint has been definitively measured. Although scientists have agreed that such fingerprints theoretically exist, the dynamic nature of the ocean has made it difficult to identify them with confidence – until now.

The findings, which were made possible by high-resolution satellite observations, detail the unique pattern of sea level change linked to the Greenland Ice Sheet. Fingerprints are factored into models to predict global sea level rise.

The finding confirms and adds confidence to sea level changes predicted by computer models. They are essential for understanding the consequences of climate change and preparing for future hazards. It is now more than clear that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is accelerating, said Sophie Coulson, postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Coulson is the lead author of the study that led to the findings, which have been published in the journal Science.

Image: Greenland ice sheet (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images file)

Image: Greenland ice sheet (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images file)

Until recently, the science of fingerprints was limited by a lack of satellite observations – records only documented the southern tip of Greenland, making it difficult to examine the oceans around it.

The Greenland Ice Sheet, which covers almost 80% of the island country, contains huge amounts of frozen water. The rapid melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet is responsible for 20% of the world’s current sea level rise, and a recent study predicted that its disintegration would raise global sea levels by at least 10 inches. , even if people stop burning fossil fuels.

The study was possible thanks to new satellite data shared by the Copernicus Marine Service, data that lasted more than 30 years and extended to higher latitudes. Coulson fed the observations of ice thickness change into a computer model and created a sea level prediction from 1993 to 2019. She then compared the predictions to new satellite data – and found a perfect match.

“It was really an exciting moment for us when we first looked at this side-by-side comparison of these observations with the model predictions,” Coulson said. “The images were incredibly similar.”

It was particularly surprising because it’s unusual in geophysics to prove something happens with more than 99.9% certainty, Coulson said. But it was clear that the pattern of sea level change revealed by the satellites was the fingerprint of the melting ice sheet – and that the estimate of sea level change predicted by previous models and the Coulson’s new model was accurate.

“We can really say with great certainty that sea-level fingerprints exist,” Coulson said. “The theory was correct.”

Knowing fingerprints can be a tool for accurately predicting sea level change is critical because the future of Earth’s oceans is so uncertain.

Image: Greenland ice sheet (Sean Gallup/Getty Images file)

Image: Greenland ice sheet (Sean Gallup/Getty Images file)

“We know that global sea levels will rise and that the magnitude and rate of sea level rise will depend on our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Yarrow Axford, associate professor at the Northwestern University which studies the impact of climate change on Greenland’s glaciers and ice sheet. said by email. She was not part of Coulson’s office.

“But how quickly the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will respond to warming is a very big unknown, and frankly a very scary unknown,” Axford said.

Fingerprints are already being used to inform sea level projections and coastal planning. In the United States, an estimated 30% of the population lives in coastal communities. Every inch of sea level rise is expected to make coastal storms more catastrophic for these populations.

That’s partly because changes in sea level can lead to more destructive storm surges, one of the deadliest aspects of hurricanes. Hurricane Ian’s storm surge, along with its torrential winds and rains, devastated Cuba and Florida. Sea level rise, along with other aspects of climate change, are expected to increase the intensity and frequency of hurricanes.

“We are already forced to adapt to rising sea levels around the world, and we still need to do a lot more to prepare,” Axford said. “Having decent projections of how fast our coasts will recede is essential for making tough decisions and the right big investments now in view of future sea level rise.”

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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