July 23, 2019 | 71° F

Rutgers scientists find evidence of Greenland impacting Arctic sea ice buildup

Photo by news.rutgers.edu |

With global temperature rising, Arctic sea ice appears to have reached lower and lower levels during the wintertime over the past decades. 

The cap of frozen seawater floating on top of the Arctic Ocean and its neighboring seas is melting. Rising temperature is causing severe weather systems throughout the world. 

During the summer in Greenland, the melting Arctic sea ice favors stronger and more frequent “block-high” pressure systems. They stay in place and can block the cold and dry Canadian air from reaching the island.

Jennifer Francis, a research professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, explained her studies provide evidence for the role of sea-ice loss in the melting of Greenland’s surface and  also suggest that sea-ice loss is causing an increased frequency of blocking highs in the atmosphere.

“These blocks, as their name suggests, are eddies in the jet stream that tend to make weather patterns very persistent both upstream and downstream of the block, so not only do they bring warm air over Greenland, but they also stagnate weather patterns over eastern North America and Europe,” Francis said, 

A growing body of evidence suggests the rapidly warming Arctic, including sea-ice loss and more extensive Greenland melting, has impact well beyond the Arctic, affecting billions of people throughout the northern hemisphere, she said. 

These impacts include sea-level increase and more frequent extreme weather events, Francis said. To slow the process of global warming and Arctic melt, emissions of greenhouse gases must be drastically reduced.

“There is no silver bullet and we cannot stop further climate change, but we can reduce the impacts if we act decisively and soon,” Francis said. “We must conserve more energy, burn less fossil fuel (especially coal and oil), develop more renewable energy sources, and increase recycling."

In order to make a difference, each person must accept this responsibility personally and look for ways to reduce emissions in everything they do, she said. 

Time has run out for ignoring the problem of climate change, and the science is now crystal clear, Francis said. No amount of disinformation or willful ignorance will change that.

Climate change and Greenland melting are due to humans increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are known to trap heat in the lower atmosphere, she said. There is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has been in at least 3 million years.

“The last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere, sea levels were tens of meters higher owing primarily to the loss of ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica. The past two years were the warmest in recorded history, and further warming is certain,” Francis said.

The main reason for the melting is the increase in global temperatures that occurs as humans add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, said James Miller, a professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences. 

The major long-term effect by the end of the century and beyond will almost certainly be the contribution of Greenland ice melting and sea level rise, Miller said. This will have major implications for coastal cities around the world. 

Bob Chant, a professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, suggested that there is an extremely strong consensus among the scientific community.

The recent accelerated melting of both Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets is due to increased greenhouse gasses (primarily Carbon Dioxide) in the atmosphere emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, he said. 

“The huge concern is that the melting may accelerate rapidly in the next century or two. This would put many of our coastal cities and many other coastal regions underwater and much more prone to flooding,” Chant said. “In particular flooding events, such as Sandy, will occur more frequently.”

To prove the theories of this severe global weather issue, Francis and her team used a variety of tools and methods to investigate scientific hypotheses.

“In the case of the new study we just published, we combined analysis of observations from the real world with simulations by sophisticated computer models of the climate system,” Francis said.

When both methods tell the same story, the theory gains credibility, she said. Ultimately it takes several careful studies to "prove" an idea.

We have all heard about how climate change has become a vital global issue and how it happened, she said. But to make a difference, each person must accept this responsibility personally and look for ways to reduce emissions in everything we do.

“Each of us must also carefully consider which leaders we elect: Does he or she accept the challenge of reducing human-caused climate change? And will he or she be willing to make tough decisions to benefit all of us, perhaps at the expense of their own political careers,” Francis said.

There are things student can do to contribute our effort on reducing the weather crisis, Chant and Miller said. 

First, students can think about how to reduce their own carbon footprint, Chant said. This can include driving and flying less, using more efficient appliances and using alternative energy sources when possible. 

Second, students can be informed and make an effort to understand the science behind climate change, he said. 

“Students should be learning about the basic scientific issues related to climate change and should start spending more time understanding our political system and thinking about running for elective office in the future, especially students who have expertise outside the range of our present political representatives,” Miller said.

Christine Lee is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in American Studies. She is a staff writer at The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @christie2504 for more.

Christine Lee

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