Jul 25, 2013

Greenland's Melting Ice Sheets: Climate Change's Disastrous Effects

Jakobshavn Glacier
Jeff Goodall
Rolling Stone
Photo: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images; Digital Animation: Francis Oh
Photo: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images; Digital Animation: Francis Oh

Jakobshavn is the fastest-moving glacier in the world, and it is sliding into the sea at a top speed of 170 feet a day. How quickly this giant slab of ice and snow – and hundreds like it across the North and South Poles – disappears is the biggest uncertainty in the world of climate science. The faster these glaciers melt, the faster seas will rise, inundating cities throughout the world, and the more unpredictable the world’s weather system is likely to become. Our future is written in ice...

Some climate modelers pointed to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns that pushed up temperatures across the Arctic. Others attributed it to the heat-trapping properties of low clouds. But [Jason Box, a 40-year-old glaciologist] decided to return to Greenland this summer – his 24th trip here in the past 20 years – to test a more startling hypothesis, part of what he calls “a unified theory” of glaciology: that tundra fires in Canada, massive wildfires in Colorado and pollution from coal-fired power plants in Europe and China had sent an unexpectedly thick layer of soot over the Arctic region last summer, which settled onto Greenland’s vast frozen interior, increasing the amount of sunlight the snow and ice absorbed, which in turn accelerated the melting