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Fears that Greenland ice sheet could be melting at an accelerated rate- 31st July

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Due to the recent impacts of climate change, scientists are worried that the warmer conditions are encouraging algae to grow on the ice sheets resulting in a darker surface. The dark ice will absorb more solar radiation that white ice, causing the ice to melt more quickly.

White ice can reflect up to 90% of the sun’s radiation, whereas dark ice may only be able to reflect about 35%, or possibly as little as 1% in the darkest areas.

Rapidly melting ice may result in sea levels rising to an unexpected level. Currently, the increase from the Greenland ice sheet is about 1mm per year being added to oceans across the world.

The Greenland ice sheet is one of the largest in the world, covering a range about seven times the size of the UK, with a thickness of up to 3km. If the sheet were to completely melt, it would raise sea levels by over 20ft globally.

Due to this, scientists are concerned about various places around the world as the melting of the ice sheet would have a direct impact on a number of low-lying coastal regions such as parts of Britain, America and Bangladesh.

Although the growth of algae on the ice sheet first appeared over one hundred years ago, scientists did not realise the importance of it, so recent into the effects of the algae are very recent.

An extensive research project conducted by Black and Bloom is now under way to investigate the algae growth and to understand how different types may form and spread. This knowledge can then be used to identify projections of future sea level rise.

As the algae had not previously been considered, past reports of sea level rise may now be underestimated, therefore any research conducted by the UK team may be able to accurately predict how sea levels may look by the end of the century.

Scientist worry that the more temperatures increase, the more the algae will flourish and grow on much wider and larger areas of the ice sheet where melting may be encouraged more than on the slopes of the narrow margins of the ice sheets where growth is currently concentrated.

Although previous research has indicated that some dark ice is caused by contaminates from industrial countries around the world, it has been identified that the majority of the dark material is in fact varying types of algae, causing the ice to turn black, brown, green and mauve.

The Black and Bloom project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), aims to publish its new projections for sea level rise in two years' time.

To find out more, click here.

Photo credit: Kate Stephens

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