- Media ignore 60 years of cooling and ice growth prior to past 25 years of ice loss
- Pace of ice loss amounts to less than 2 inches of sea level rise per century
- Even the modest recent ice loss has slowed down since 2011
CNN and other media are raising false alarm about Greenland’s ice sheet. The media are reporting that a recent study shows, as CNN put it, “Greenland’s ice sheet is currently melting seven times faster than it was in 1992.” Adding further fright to the news, CNN claims, “This ice sheet holds enough water to raise global sea levels by more than 24 feet.” This seems rather alarming, until looking closer at the facts.
The study that CNN referenced, published in December 2019, asserts, “Although the ice sheet was close to a state of balance in the 1990s, annual losses have risen since then….” However, temperatures recorded by weather stations in Greenland show that temperatures were declining from approximately 1930 through 1990 (see, for example, here and here).
It may be true that, after approximately 60 years of a cooling trend and presumably accumulating ice, the cooling trend finally ended. Also, the moment that the cooling finally ended would put the ice sheet “close to a state of balance.” However, one might expect that a certain amount of warming and ice loss would likely occur after 60 years of cooling and ice growth finally ended.
It seems curious that media reports don’t mention the 60 years of cooling and ice growth prior to the recent 25 years of warming. Also, choosing 1992 as the baseline for comparing the pace of current ice loss seems to be cherry-picking to attain alarming results. Naturally, the very beginning stages of ice loss as ice extent nudges off “balance” would be smaller than the pace of subsequent ice loss – even if the subsequent ice loss is modest.
More important than the ratio of current ice loss compared to the pace of 1992 is the total amount of ice that is melting. The study reported, “In all, Greenland lost 3,800 ± 339 billion tons of ice between 1992 and 2018, causing the mean sea level to rise by 10.6 ± 0.9 millimeters.” Yet 10.6 millimeters is less than one-half of an inch. Over the span of a quarter century, Greenland ice melt has had less than one-half of an inch impact on global sea level. Assuming cooling cycles don’t occur again this century and Greenland ice continues melting at the pace of the past 25 years, this will result in less than 2 inches of sea level rise during the entire next century.
Also, the study itself acknowledges that the pace of ice loss peaked in 2011, meaning the pace of ice loss has declined since then.
The biggest new story regarding Greenland ice melt is there has finally been a break in the long-term cooling of Greenland. The ice loss that is occurring is of almost no significance regarding global sea level.
Tiffany Taylor (TTaylor@heartland.org) is an associate policy analyst at The Heartland Institute.