A study published in the Nature Communications journal on Jan. 12 has discovered that clouds may just be as harmful to the Greenland ice sheet as the ever increasing air and water temperature.
The article titled "Clouds enhance Greenland ice sheet meltwater runoff" was published by a group of researchers led by Kristof Van Tricht, a graduate student from KU Leuven Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
The research involved the usage of climate model data, snow model simulations and active satellite observations in order to gain a deeper understanding of what is really causing the Greenland Ice Sheet runoff.
Most people know that clouds are an important part of the weather system and that it helps the Earth reflect radiation from the sun, however, Van Tricht and his colleagues have discovered that clouds above Greenland are not as helpful. Like thieves in the night, the seemingly harmless, normal and sometimes even adorable clouds actually have quite an effect on the rising sea levels.
The published article states that a thick covering of clouds over the Greenland ice sheet can trap heat instead of reflect it back to the sun, therefore increasing the amount of meltwater that the glacier adds to the already rising sea levels.
It's unnerving, to say the least, but in order to understand this phenomenon, we may have to go back to basic science lessons, and add a few new ones that may help us to understand just how our planet works.
The Greenhouse Effect, Cloud-Climate Feedback And Clouds
Don't be scared now, the greenhouse effect is actually a natural phenomenon. We've been hearing about its effects on climate change so the mention of it may already have a stigma to your ears, but did you know that without it, the earth would be too cold to live on?
Basically, the greenhouse effect is the natural phenomenon that allows the earth to trap in a little of the heat that the sun provides for us, and if you've been paying any attention to your science teacher, you would know that it's this heat energy that allows plants and animals to survive. Kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, the greenhouse effect makes our planet "just right" to support signs life.
As to the effects of the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide on our protective atmosphere, that is a discussion for another day. For now, let's focus on what negative effects it has on our clouds. That brings us to what is called the Cloud-climate feedback.
Normally, those white, cottony clouds reflect the sunlight, protecting us from more heat and being overbaked. But because of the increasing temperature of the atmosphere, the amount of clouds that cover the surface of the earth thickens, trapping the heat inside instead of reflecting it back into space.
The article showed just how much this interaction is rapidly increasing the amount of ice sheet melting
What Does The Greenland Ice Sheet Melting Have To Do With Anything?
The answer to that is everything. Glaciers and ice sheets, such as the ones in Greenland, balance out the heat that gets trapped inside the atmosphere, and if they completely melt – which they are rapidly doing now – the result just might be disastrous. It's not a matter of the battle between hot and cold temperatures, but a matter of balance that seems to be tipping ever so closely to only one side of the scale.
What else? Well, if glaciers and ice sheets melt, the water will go to the seas and oceans. Think about this: When the ice melts and becomes water, that water has to go somewhere.
Where does it go? It rises, making places like New York, Florida, Maldives and even archipelagos like the Philippines the next candidates to be future Atlantis, minus the high technology and the modern society falling out of favor with fluffy clouds instead of mighty Greek gods.
Freezing humongous glaciers and ice sheets all over and putting them all back from where they came from isn't exactly an option, but knowing how important they are is the first step to making a change. Sure, they're just big chunks of ice, but they are so much more than that.
With Billions of people on the planet, a simple change in our actions may be all that it takes to slow down and eventually stop the melting of the world's glaciers.