In mid-August, something peculiar happened on the snowy landscape of Greenland, something never witnessed before in recorded history—it rained at its highest summit!
Experts say that this episode of rain, instead of snow, at the highest point of Greenland is a stark reminder of the ongoing climate crisis. Greenland is one of the world’s largest islands. Permanent ice sheets cover three-quarters of Greenland, which is located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
The upper layers of the Greenland permafrost are prone to melting under the influence of cascading climate change. Now, the recorded rainfall activity has sent the alarm bells ringing! Experts say that such episodes can dramatically accelerate the melting process, thus elevating the sea levels. Here’s exactly what happened!
The rain episode
Scientists at the National Science Foundation’s Summit Station in Greenland witnessed the unexpected rainfall for several hours on the morning of August 14 and on August 15. The station is situated on the highest point of Greenland’s Ice Sheet and was established in 1989.
It is a year-round research station that examines changes in the weather conditions around Greenland island and the Arctic.
Why did it rain at Greenland’s summit?
The island is estimated to have received a whopping 630 crore metric tonnes of rain in three days. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, this rain episode was among the heaviest recorded since 1950.
Warm, moist air blowing from the southwest of Greenland is likely to have triggered rains over the region. As per weather reports, a high air pressure formed over Greenland’s southeast and a marked low-pressure over Baffin Island in the west of the island around the same time.
Together, these meteorological conditions led to the prevalence of hot, moist air over Greenland. On August 14, temperatures at the ice sheet summit—at 3,216 metres high—crossed 0.48℃ for at least nine hours. As this temperature is above the freezing point, the precipitation occurred in the form of rain, explain scientists. Recorded data suggests that this is only the third time that Greenland recorded temperatures above the freezing point in the past decade.
Why is this rain a concern?
After Antarctica, Greenland hosts the world’s second-largest volume of ice sheets, and precipitation holds the potential to accelerate their melting process. The rains and warm temperatures between August 14 to 16 have also led to significant melting at the summit. Over these three days, the amount of ice loss was said to be seven times more than what happens typically during mid-August.
In the cold corner of the planet, the ice-covered landscape plays a huge role in escaping the impact of sunlight. Therefore, when rain falls on the ground, its warmth penetrates deeper and melts the ice cover. This, in turn, exposes the ground and leads to the absorption of more and more sunlight.
Greenland has already been facing the brunt of climate change. In July 2021, the region witnessed one of the most dramatic episodes of melting, where Greenland lost a whopping 8.5 billion tons of ice every day.
The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that the carbon emissions from anthropogenic sources contributed significantly to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet over the past two decades. Hence, the entire episode underlines the importance of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to protect the pristine environment of the snowy paradise.
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