When global warming is discussed, many will try to predict how much the ice cap will melt and how much the seas will rise. There are many variables in this calculation. A new study by an international team of scientists analyzing ice cores from the Greenland ice sheet going back in time more than 100,000 years indicates the last interglacial period may be a good analog for where the planet is headed in terms of increasing greenhouse gases and rising temperatures.
The new results from the NEEM deep ice core drilling project led by the University of Copenhagen and involving the University of Colorado Boulder show that between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago during the Eemian interglacial period, the climate in north Greenland rose about 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today. Despite the strong warming signal during the Eemian — a period when the seas were roughly 15 to 25 feet higher than today — the surface of the north Greenland ice sheet near the NEEM facility was only a few hundred yards lower than it is today, an indication to scientists it contributed less than half of the total sea rise at the time.
The Eemian was an interglacial period which began about 130,000 years ago and ended about 114,000 years ago. It was the second-to-latest interglacial period of the current Ice Age, the most recent being the Holocene which extends to the present day. The prevailing Eemian climate is believed to have been similar to that of the Holocene. An interglacial period is a geological interval of warmer global average temperature lasting thousands of years that separates consecutive glacial periods within an ice age. The current Holocene interglacial has persisted since the end of the Pleistocene, about 11,400 years ago.
The new Nature findings showed that about 128,000 years ago, the surface elevation of ice near the NEEM site was more than 650 feet higher than present but the ice was starting to thin by about 2 inches per year. Between about 122,000 and 115,000 years ago, Greenland’s surface elevation remained stable at roughly 425 feet below the present level. Calculations indicate Greenland’s ice sheet volume was reduced by no more than 25 percent between 128,000 years ago and 122,000 years ago, said White.
“When we calculated how much ice melt from Greenland was contributing to global sea rise in the Eemian, we knew a large part of the sea rise back then must have come from Antarctica,” said White, director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “A lot of us had been leaning in that direction for some time, but we now have evidence that confirms that the West Antarctic ice sheet was a dynamic and crucial player in global sea rise during the last interglacial period.”
Dahl-Jensen said the loss of ice mass on the Greenland ice sheet in the early part of the Eemian was likely similar to changes seen there by climate scientists in the past 10 years. Other studies have shown the temperatures above Greenland have been rising five times faster than the average global temperatures in recent years, and that Greenland has been losing more than 200 million tons of ice annually since 2003.
“We were quite shocked by the warm surface temperatures observed at the NEEM ice camp in July 2012,” said Dahl-Jensen. “It was raining at the top of the Greenland ice sheet, and just as during the Eemian period, melt water formed subsurface ice layers. While this was an extreme event, the present warming over Greenland makes surface melt more likely, and the predicted warming over Greenland in the next 50-100 years will very likely be so strong that we will potentially have Eemian-like climate conditions.”
The results from the Nature study provide scientists with a road map of sorts to show where a warming Earth is headed in the future, said White.
For further information see Greenland.
Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.