Greenland's ice shelves are melting towards collapse, SJSU and other researchers find

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Thursday, November 9, 2023
Greenland's ice shelves on verge of collapse, new research shows
Greenland's ice shelves are melting towards collapse, San Jose State University and international researchers find.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The warming oceans worldwide are leading to the rapid melting of ice and glaciers long thought to be stable.

A new study co-authored by San Jose State University Assistant Professor and Oceanographer Mike Wood shows us just how dire the situation is becoming.

"The sheer scale of the Greenland ice sheets and the ice shelves is really astounding and really beautiful," Wood said. "But of course, the changes that we're seeing are a bit concerning."

The ice shelves are melting.

MORE: Why Greenland's rapid ice melt could pose climate threat to San Francisco Bay

Wood has been studying the Greenland ice shelves at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. He and a group of international researchers used data from satellites, aircrafts and other models to see an unprecedented increase in melting across Greenland's northern eight ice shelves.

One third of the shelves' total mass is gone.

"We've seen an increase in ice melting on the undersides of these ice shelves over the past 20 years," Wood said. "And the reason for this increase is because of the warming ocean waters around Greenland."

These shelves are an important part of the eco-system because they hold glaciers on land and slow ice loss.

As they melt, researchers have seen the destabilization of nearby glaciers.

MORE: How NASA is using satellites to track glacier melt, predict sea level rise

"This is really important because as we melt down these ice shelves, they act as dams to hold back the ice," Wood said. "So, as they weaken, this permits in an increase in the ice that can make it into the ocean and that causes sea level rise."

If they were to melt completely, they would raise sea levels by nearly 7 feet and the impacts would be felt globally - including in the Bay Area.

"Ice is then added to the ocean in Northern Greenland, it melts and it finds its way through currents," Wood said. "So, it really spreads its way across the entire world. Of course, sea-level rise is one of the most concerning components in our changing climate and that's because most of our global population, like in the Bay Area, lives along the coast."

So to keep the world above water, the goal of the study that Wood co-authored is to raise awareness about ice loss and sea level rise in order to take steps now to prevent further harm.

"It's a direct benefit to society," Wood said. "The more we know about these processes, the more we can adapt to it and the more we can help mitigate negative impacts on society resulting from sea level rise."

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