By Dr. John Happs
The Greenland ice sheet is the second largest body of ice on Earth after the Antarctic ice sheet and to say that Greenland’s ice sheet is big would be an understatement. It is about 2,400 km long, 1,100 km wide and covers an area of around 1,710,000 square km. It has a volume of about 2,850,000 cu. km and ice cores have been taken from a depth of around 4 km.
The public read and hear only about Greenland’s short summer melting events with exaggerated media reports routinely providing alarmist messages.
In July 2019,The Guardian newspaper reported that:
“More than 250 news outlets worldwide have signed on to Covering Climate Now, a project to improve coverage of the emergency.” (My emphasis)
We all know they are not remotely interested in improving coverage. They promote groupthink – the antithesis of investigative journalism and we also know what the media’s version of “improved coverage” is.
In 2015 The New York Times featured Coral Davenport, Josh Haner and Derek Watkins reporting on how: “Greenland is Melting Away” and “ as the temperature rises, large lakes form on the surface of the ice, which in turn create a network of rivers.”
The drama continued: “The rivers then flow down into giant holes in the ice, called moulins , which drain through tunnels in the ice sheet and out into the ocean.”
All very dramatic but with no reference to research such as Smith et al. (2015) reporting that not all that meltwater actually reaches the ocean:
“Models alone cannot fully describe supraglacial drainage and its connection to subglacial systems, and that predicting outflow from climate models alone, without recognition of subglacial processes, may overestimate true meltwater release from the ice sheet.”
New snow is added to the Greenland ice sheet each year and the overall mass of the Greenland ice sheet is determined by the difference between ice loss (usually during June, July and August) and ice gain, during the winter months.
Summer melt is a normal process, but not for Forbes reporter Scott Snowden who breathlessly told us: “Last week, the world received yet another stark reminder of what’s yet to come as temperatures at the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet rose above freezing and melted the snow there for the first time since July 2012 and perhaps only the third time in the last 700 years. The glacier-covered island lost 12.5 billion tons of ice in one day.”
Except that melting stopped a few days later and recovery was rapid. Not surprisingly, this went unreported:
Davenport, Haner and Watkins would have us believe this brief period of rapid melt and the dramatic picture of moulins prove that Greenland is melting away. What these alarmists never admit (perhaps they don’t know) is that summertime always leads to some surface melting and runoff.
On December 5th, 2017 Henry Fountain and Derek Watkins continued the melting Greenland ice sheet drama, with similar articles in The Guardian reporting with the usual IF, MAY and COULD:
“There’s still much that remains unknown about the ice-sheet which, at roughly 650,000 square miles, is more than twice the size of Texas. The sheet, up to two miles thick, contains enough ice that, IF it all melted, would raise oceans around the world by 24 feet. “
Not to be outdone,The Guardian’s Global Environmental Editor Jonathan Watts reported (6th December, 2018) how:
“Sea levels MAY rise more rapidly due to Greenland ice melt.”
And: “The Greenland ice sheet is like a sleeping giant who is slowly but surely awakening to ongoing global warming.”
And: “ Rising sea levels COULD become overwhelming sooner than previously believed … “
And: “ IF all the ice in Greenland melted, it would raise sea levels by seven metres. At the current pace that would take thousands of years, but the ongoing acceleration COULD bring this forward rapidly.” (My emphasis on the above quotes)
Watts tried to scare us with another of those dreaded tipping points:
“The ice has no political agenda – it either grows or melts. Today it is melting as humans have warmed the planet. The ice sheets have tipping points, and how quickly they impact our livelihoods through sea level rise depends on what we do now and in the very near future.”
The “sleeping giant” might not have a political agenda but Watts certainly has.
Watts should know that even the alarmist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acknowledged there has been no significant global warming for more than 20 years and state (AR5):
“Exceptionally unlikely that either Greenland or West Antarctic Ice Sheets will suffer near-complete disintegration (high confidence).
Other media alarmists have dramatised Greenland’s melting moments, including Ted Scambos from CBS News and the Washington Post. He reported how Greenland was experiencing: “One of its greatest melting events ever recorded.”
Perhaps that is because nobody recorded the melting that took place during the Minoan Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period or the Medieval Warm Period when Vikings colonized Greenland, ran cattle and grew crops there.
It seems those media alarmists haven’t yet worked out how the Viking dead were buried where today’s permafrost prevents any excavation at those locations.
Ice cores from the Greenland ice sheet provide a good record of temperatures in Greenland over the last 5,000 years and this places current temperatures in perspective:
Not only do we see a cooling at the summit of the Greenland ice sheet, we also see how this coincides with rising carbon dioxide levels.
Why can’t reporters from The Guardian, CBS News, The Washington Post, theBBC, the ABC and other media alarmists understand that the Greenland ice sheet is not melting away and rising levels of carbon dioxide have had no impact on temperature?
Most likely for the same reason they have decided to ignore research such as the following:
Greenland was 4-5oC warmer than current temperatures during the early part of the Holocene, around 12,000 years ago. Syring et al. (2020)
The Greenland ice sheet cooled and gained mass over a 40 year period, despite slowly rising levels of carbon dioxide. Mikkleson et al. (2018)
From 8,300 BCE to 800 BCE the average temperature was higher than the average temperature between 1960 and 1980. Vinther et al. (2009)
Media climate alarmists don’t appear to know (or choose to ignore) that this nonsense about the complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet has been going on for almost a century.
On the 18th November, 1930 Tasmania’s North-Eastern Advertiser warned:
“It is now definitely established that Greenland’s ice cap is disappearing.”
“The entire disappearance of this ice cap would probably open up all the polar regions to settlement.”
On the 17th December, 1939 the Harrisburg Sunday Courier announced that: “Glaciers are Melting Over Greenland” with Dr. Hand Ahlmann stating:
“It may without exaggeration be said that glaciers – like those in Norway face the possibility of a catastrophic collapse.”
We now have climate alarmists claiming that basal melting will cause Greenland’s ice sheet to be lubricated by melt-water causing it to slide into the ocean. Of course it’s never explained how this is going to happen when the geological profile of Greenland is that of a large basin. Ollier and Pain explain:
“Global warming alarmists have suggested that the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica may collapse, causing disastrous sea level rise. This idea is based on the concept of an ice sheet sliding down an inclined plane on a base lubricated by meltwater, which is itself increasing because of global warming.
In reality the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets occupy deep basins, and cannot slide down a plane. Furthermore glacial flow depends on stress (including the important yield stress) as well as temperature, and much of the ice sheets are well below melting point.”
So what is really happening to Greenland’s ice cap?
Ice loss due to natural seasonal summer surface warming in some areas is more than offset by ice accumulation elsewhere.
Media claims of record Greenland temperatures have been grossly exaggerated with no indication of any warming trend found in official records:
According to the Polar Portal Season Report (2018) large regions of the oceans surrounding Greenland have been cooling by as much as 1-2oC in the last few years:
“Observations from the 18 weather stations in the melting region of the ice sheet indicate that the average degree of melting was the lowest recorded during the 10 years in which observations have been made (2008-2018).”
Climate alarmists rarely mention that Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier is advancing with research from NASA scientists showing that it is now thickening and advancing towards the ocean.
In fact the Jakobshavn Glacier has been advancing and thickening since 2016. NASA’s Dr. Josh Willis observed:
“The third straight year of thickening of Greenland’s biggest glacier supports our conclusion that the ocean is the culprit.”
Joughin et al. (2020) reported a thickening of the Jakobshavn glacier and also attributed this to regional ocean cooling of 1.5oC in recent years.
Whilst climate alarmists tell us that glaciers worldwide are disappearing, they appear not to know (or choose to ignore) that Dr. Finnur Palsson from the University of Iceland who is studying several glaciers in Iceland including the Hofsjökull, Langjökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Vatnajökull notes that they, like Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier, are also advancing.
Westergaard-Nielsen et al. (2018) have examined temperature trends across the ice-free part of Greenland and have concluded:
“The most recent and detailed trends based on MODIS (2001-2015) shows contrasting trends across Greenland, and if there is any general trend it is mostly a cooling.”
Ice has been steadily building up on Greenland’s ice sheet as testified by a team hunting World War 11 aircraft that were abandoned there in 1942.
Two B-17 bombers and six P-38 Lightnings ran out of fuel and crash-landed on the Greenland ice cap.
In 1988 one of the P-38 Lightnings was located using steam boring down to a depth of 82 metres.
82 metres of ice had accumulated in 46 years.
In 2002 the restored P-38 flew again.
Again, this episode certainly doesn’t support media alarmism about a rapidly melting Greenland icecap. In fact Greenland cooling has been documented by a number of other researchers. For instance Kobashi et al. (2015) reported that Greenland cooled from the 1970’s to the 1990’s.
Research by Axford et al. (2019) points out that 9,000 years ago north-west Greenland’s outlet glaciers were smaller than they are today:
Schweinsberg et al. (2019) also pointed to the most pronounced glacier expansion in West Greenland having occurred during the last 2,000 years:
It’s such a pity that the media never consult the temperature records maintained at Greenland’s Summit Station situated about 3,000 m above sea level. The station recorded Greenland’s lowest temperature on 2nd January, 2020 at -66°C and this is very close to the Northern Hemisphere’s record low, measured in 1933 at Oymyakon in Russia. That record low temperature was -67.7°C.
Dr. Valentina Zharkova from the UK’s Northumbria University and other solar physicists have been warning for some time that the sun is in a low-activity mode and this will move the Earth into a prolonged period of cooling. Zharkova has repeatedly pointed out that:
“By 2020 we are likely to be in for a new “Super Grand Solar Minimum” which will bring about a multi-decadal cold global temperature period similar to the “little ice age” between about 1300 and 1850.”
Dr. Zharkova rejects the notion of atmospheric carbon dioxide as a climate driver and she correctly predicted that solar cycle 24 would be weaker than solar cycle 23. More than 100 peer-reviewed, published papers, ignored by climate alarmists, also show a close correlation between solar activity and global temperature:
As we enter the next solar minimum phase there are indications that it will be as deep and long as any observed during the last 100 or more years and that will lead to more ice build-up in Greenland.
NASA has reported that solar cycle 25 will be the weakest of the past 200 years and this promises global cooling:
There will always be occasions when some surface melting takes place in Greenland. It’s called summertime! It’s also the time when global warming alarmists pretend that the usual summer melt is unprecedented.
Inevitably, we can expect information about Greenland’s natural melting and overall cooling to be ignored or downplayed by climate alarmists such as David Rising and Seth Borenstein who excitedly reported for AP News (August, 2019) that:
“The Greenland ice sheet has lost 240 billion metric tons this year.”
240 billion metric tonssounds scary – except it isn’t!
Dr. Shfaqat Abbas Khan from the Technical University of Denmark has calculated the loss of ice from Greenland at 9,000 billion tons over the last 100 years.
Sound even more scary since it equates to a cube of ice with dimensions: 20 km X 20 km X 20 Km. This represents a very large ice cube but, as David Middleton points out, a Greenland ice cube measuring 20 km X 20 km X 20 Km. is still a trivial amount compared to Greenland’s overall ice mass:
Even if the impossible happened and the Greenland ice sheet lost 240 billion metric tons every year from now on and even if the impossible happened and there was no further snow/ice accumulation, it would still take many thousands of years for all the ice to disappear.
It’s reassuring to know that we will be given at least one more “last chance” to stop the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet and avoid yet another tipping point. Presumably, a few thousand years from now, we can expect another dire warning (this time we are really, really serious) about a Greenland ice sheet tipping point.
It’s enough to make Extinction Rebels glue themselves to the nearest lamp post.
Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.