An astounding new study examines the depth of the precipitation increase observed in Greenland and the global impact that melting of massive ice can have, especially in winter.
The Cryosphere study published in the journal found that winter (defined as October to March or December to February) rose sharply in the last phase of the study from 2 events to 12.
"When it rains in winter, the ice in summer is more vulnerable," said Marco Tedesco, a glaciologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of the study. "We start to realize that you have to look at all seasons."
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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, around one-eighth of an inch per year is now rising, a complete melting of the ice in Greenland would be catastrophic.
According to National Snow and Ice Data Center calculations, coastal cities around the world would do considerable damage.
The increase in precipitation also has far-reaching effects on the health and longevity of the ice sheet itself, according to the authors.
"The simultaneity of melting and precipitation in a single weather event suggests that mass gain and mass loss are closely related," she wrote in the study. "Especially in winter, the high correlation between Mode 2 and precipitation suggests that the weather pattern responsible for the most unusual melt increase is at the same time ~59 [percent] of total seasonal precipitation."
The study examined satellite images of the ice sheet and data from 20 weather stations from 1
"That was a surprise," said lead author of the study, Marilena Oltmann of Germany's GEOMAR Center for Ocean Research. Oltmanns added that the melting associated with the rain doubled during the summer and tripled in the winter.
"It makes sense because we see warm air currents from the south, but it's still surprising to see that this is associated with rain," she told the BBC.
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The longer-term effects become clearer, the authors said. Part of the meltwater runs off, but the rest that does not drain stays in place and freezes. However, re-freezing results in a darker, denser ice mass that melts more easily when the sun comes out. This leads to a further "melt" in the so-called "malicious feedback loop".
As a result of this, melting earlier and in Tedesco said a more pronounced fashion.
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. Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University glaciologist, said the new work will boost understanding. "The big picture is clear and unchanged," he said. "Warming melts ice."