The rapid melting of the Zachariae Isstrom glacier in northeast Greenland could have catastrophic consequences for the world's coastal cities, a group of scientists revealed in a study.
The glacier has been shedding ice at a frequency of five billion tons per year since 2012 due to warm underwater currents and warmer air temperatures. Researchers expect that these warm temperatures will continue to increase over the next 30 years.
Scientists said the continuous calving of the Zachariae Isstrom glacier, as well as its neighbor, the Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glacier (or the 79 North Glacier), will increase sea-level rise from Greenland.
The melting of the Zachariae alone could raise sea levels by about a foot and a half or 18 inches, while the melting of the 79 North Glacier could raise sea levels by 21 inches. Combined, the two could raise 39 inches of global sea-level, experts said.
Dr. John Paden, an associate scientist at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) who helped analyzed the findings for this study, explained that predicted sea level rise caused by melting ice sheets will affect nearly every coastal country.
A previous study showed that cities in the United States such as Miami, Seattle, New York and Boston will be affected by the sea level rise. It would also be a challenge to protect low-lying areas against sea level rises. These areas include the European lowlands, Bangladesh, areas of the United States' eastern coast, as well as the northeast China plains. Small island countries in Micronesia will be most threatened by the effects of the phenomenon, said Paden.
James Hansen, a former climate chief at NASA, said that if sea level rise reaches several meters, all coastal cities will become dysfunctional. The negative consequences, both social and economic, are innumerable.
If melted ice sheets from Greenland and Antarctica flowed into the oceans, the circulation pattern of oceans will be altered. This will lead to a faster melting rate and an even higher increase in global sea level.
Meanwhile, Paden said that the group's findings intend to help people in coastal areas in the case of any drastic event.
"We study this to have an understanding of how soon things are likely to happen and to help us use our limited resources mitigate the problem," added Paden.
In July this year, NASA launched a six-year program called the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) which would track the loss of ice and melting of glaciers in the country. Ongoing research is funded by NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Program.