Greenland’s Melting Glacier Could Raise Sea Levels Twice as Much as Predicted

We speak with glaciologist David Bahr, who co-authored a shocking new study this week revealing Greenland’s melting ice sheet will likely contribute almost a foot to global sea level rise by the end of the century. The journal published the report. Nature Climate Change, finds that even if the world were to halt all greenhouse gas emissions today, 120 trillion tons of Greenland’s “zombie ice” are doomed to melt. Bahr believes that global emissions will continue to rise and that sea levels could rise two-and a half feet if Greenland glacial melt continues. “The faster we can get to net zero, the better we will all be,” he says.

TRANSCRIPT

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AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

This week, a major new feature is available study revealed Greenland’s melting ice sheet will likely contribute almost a foot to global sea level rise by the end of the century — that’s twice as much as previously reported. In the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers found that even if the world were to halt all greenhouse gas emissions today, higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have already doomed 120 trillion tons of Greenland’s ice to melt. Researchers warn that sea levels could rise even higher if the world doesn’t take immediate action to stop the damage.

For more, we’re joined by one of the report’s co-authors, David Bahr, glaciologist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

David, you are most welcome to Democracy Now!

DAVID BAHR:We are grateful.

AMY GOODMAN:Talk about the zombie ice you and other colleagues found.

DAVID BAHR: Yeah, “zombie” is a good term. What we found is that the Greenland ice sheet is trying to recover from damage that we’ve already done. So we’re not even talking about future climate change. This foot of sea-level rise is due to the damage that we have already done. The ice sheet is trying a little bit to correct the damage. This is leaving ice along its margins, which is basically dynamically disconnected from the rest. It’s dead ice. It’s already committed to the oceans. And that’s why we’re calling it “zombie ice.” It’s relegated to the oceans and to sea level rise, and there’s nothing that we can do about that now. The best thing is to try to prepare for the next and to not make it worse.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:David, explain why Greenland’s importance.

DAVID BAHR:There are many sources of sea level rising. One that’s underappreciated is the thermal expansion of the oceans. When we heat the atmosphere, the water warms up and expands just like other things. Greenland is now the second-largest source of sea level rising. It used to have been the small glaciers. And by “small,” we mean those in the Alps, in the Himalayas, in Alaska. Greenland is catching up. Greenland is now the major contributor to sea level rise. And Greenland now is really surprising us by how much water it’s going to contribute to sea level rise.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:David, what can we do to extrapolate from the Greenland study to other ice sheets and glaciers around the world? I mean, right now we’re seeing these devastating, unprecedented floods in Pakistan — Pakistan, of course, home to the largest number of glaciers in the world.

DAVID BAHR: Right. Each of these studies proves that things are just a little worse than we thought. There is much to be concerned about in Antarctica. We don’t want it to get a lot worse. The question is, “Will it?” It is worth doing a similar study there. The world’s small glaciers are melting at just an unprecedented rate and will continue to be a major factor in sea level rise. You know, we have to think about the climate change that’s still coming. And if we don’t tamp that down, then we’re expecting up to two-and-a-half feet of sea level just from Greenland, before we even consider these other sources.

AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is sleepwalking toward the destruction of the planet. He made the comment as a plea for nations and countries to assist Pakistan in recovering from its devastating floods, which have left more than a third the country underwater, killed well over a thousand people, and displaced 33 millions.

SECRETARYGENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The government of Pakistan has asked for the international community’s help. Let’s work together to address this massive crisis quickly and collaboratively. Let us all show solidarity and support for the people of Pakistan in their time of need. Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change. Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, David Bahr, that’s the U.N. secretary-general. We see the horror that’s taking place in Pakistan. We also see the heat dome, the record-breaking heat levels in California, and the fires. You’ve got Jackson, Mississippi, a number of issues coming together, from race to climate. As a glaciologist or a climate change scientist, make the connection. reportThe global climate catastrophe and what can be done now to reverse it.

DAVID BAHR: Yeah. We can mitigate, although it is difficult to reverse. At this point, we’ve committed ourselves to a certain amount of damage. We’re going to continue to see fires. We’re going to continue to see floods. We’re going to continue to see the sea level rise that we’re expecting from Greenland. But the faster we can get to net zero, the better we’ll all be. You know, we’re expecting nuisance flooding, storm surges, loss of infrastructure along the coastline, but it doesn’t have to get a whole lot worse. You know, over the next hundred years, OK, we’re committed to one foot of sea level rise and the damage that we expect from that. But there’s no reason we need to make it worse. We can avoid the worst-case scenario, multiple feet of sea level rising if we act now and reduce our carbon emissions.

AMY GOODMAN:David Bahr: What surprised you most? I mean, you’ve been looking at glaciers for a long time. And again, your report is like twice the prediction —

DAVID BAHR: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning IPCC. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted sea level rise of two to five inches from Greenland’s glacial melting. Why such a huge leap?

DAVID BAHR: Right. Yes, you are correct. IPCC report. And so, what struck me is just the magnitude of the loss that we’re expecting, what we’re already committed to. Nobody involved in this research anticipated it to be twice what we had previously thought. That’s just really shocking. Then, when we consider the future damage, it’s shocking to think that we could even get as much as 30 inches of meltwater out of Greenland.

AMY GOODMAN:Also, can you tell us about the methodology you used to achieve this report?

DAVID BAHR: Yes. Computer models are used in most reports about sea level rise from Greenland. In our case we used observations and boots on ground. There were many coauthors. I developed some physics that was used to plug in the data that we obtained from the actual Ice Sheet. It shows that the snow line is shifting upwards, which is the dividing line between what melts each and what accumulates. By following the snow line’s movement upwards, we can see how much of that ice has become zombie ice. This is ice that is committed to sea-level and has one foot in the grave.

AMY GOODMAN: Solutions?

DAVID BAHR:We all know the answers, I believe. We need to get back to net zero. This requires serious government action. It’s great that we all pitch in as individuals, but without the concerted efforts of the world’s governments, we’re not going to make the kind of progress that we need to make.

AMY GOODMAN:David Bahr: I would like to thank you for being there, glaciologist at Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at University of Colorado Boulder, co-author of this new reportPublished in the journal Nature Climate Change titled “Greenland ice sheet climate disequilibrium and committed sea-level rise.” Stay with us.

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