Greenland could be completely iceless by the end of a millennium if greenhouse gas emissions around the world continue to increase.
A Doomsday Scenario
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, used data from NASA's Operation IceBridge. The researchers, led by scientists at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, ran the model 500 times out to the year 3000 for each of the three possible future climate scenarios based on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.
They found that at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, Greenland's ice sheet would disappear within 1,000 years. This would contribute 17 to 23 feet or about 5 to 7 meters to the global sea level, putting much of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, and other cities underwater.
If the greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized by the end of the century, the island would only lose 26 to 57 percent of the ice sheet. If greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced, the ice loss in Greenland can be limited to just 8 to 25 percent.
The research also revealed that in 200 years, the melting outlet glaciers will account for up to 40 percent of the ice mass lost from the island. Outlet glaciers play a significant role in how ice sheets melt.
Greenland Ice Sheet Melting
The Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest body of ice in the world, after the Antarctic Ice Sheet. It measures roughly 650,000 square miles — about the size of Alaska — and covers 81 percent of Greenland. It also consists of layers of compressed snow from the past hundred thousand years and contains 8 percent of the fresh water on Earth.
"If we continue as usual, Greenland will melt," stated Andy Aschwanden, research associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "What we are doing right now in terms of emissions, in the very near future, will have a big long-term impact on the Greenland Ice Sheet, and by extension, if it melts, to sea level and human society."