The climate is changing. Retreating glaciers; rising sea levels; hotter and more acidic oceans; and more frequent, stronger storms: all of these changes can be traced to an increase in the earth’s average temperature, which is about 1.5°F higher today than it was a century ago.
But the consequences of climate change are more complicated and connected than a simple list of weather events implies. For example, floods caused by rising sea levels can destroy infrastructure and displace communities, exacerbating issues like poverty, instability, and migration.
Enter Greenland, where a changing ecosystem illustrates the complexity of this issue.
For at least five thousand years, sea level was more or less stable. But since the end of the nineteenth century, sea level has risen about eight inches, and it is rising faster now: sea levels have risen more than two inches in the past twenty years alone.
So why are sea levels rising? A major factor is glacier melt, and scientists are particularly concerned about Greenland’s melting. Eighty percent of Greenland is covered by an ice sheet, or large area of land covered in glacial ice. It’s one of only two in the world. (The other is Antarctica.)
Melting is not normally cause for alarm. It is a seasonal process: ice sheets melt in the summer, and then typically regain their mass through water that refreezes in the winter.
Here is how the process of melting and refreezing has looked for thousands of years: