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Sea level rise: the half-metre threat from Greenland - 13 November


The Zachariae Isstrom glacier in northeast Greenland has begun breaking into large icebergs where the glacier meets the sea. Zachariae Isstrom holds enough water to raise global sea levels by half a metre, which has prompted scientists to warn that this will set in motion a rise in sea levels which will continue for decades to come.

Drawing on 40 years of satellite data and aerial surveys, Zachariae Isstrom has been found to recede three times faster since 2012 - with its retreat speeding up by 125m per year. Worryingly, between 2002 and 2014, the glacier’s floating shelf shrank by 95%. As a result, the glacier has now detached, and is losing 4.5bn tonnes of ice every year.

Rising air temperatures and warmer ocean currents buffer the glacier, and are expect to continue calving the glacier for between twenty to thirty years, until it reaches a natural ledge about 30km back which will force the retreat to slow down.

Taken in unison with Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glacier, which is located to the north of Zachariae Isstrom, the glaciers account for 12% of the Greenland ice sheet. Monitoring has shown that Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden is also melting rapidly albeit at a slightly slower pace than Zachariae Isstrom due to its uphill terrain. Should both melt, they would contribute a whole metre to global sea levels.

Undoubtedly, these figures will provide compelling evidence for the forthcoming Paris climate conference at the end of the month.

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