We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Some of the "doomed ice" in Greenland. PA
Uh oh

‘Zombie ice’ from Greenland will raise sea level by 10 inches, study suggests

Zombie or doomed ice is ice that is still attached to thicker areas of ice, but is no longer getting fed by those larger glaciers.

ZOMBIE ICE FROM a massive Greenland ice sheet will eventually raise the global sea level by at least 10in (27 centimetres) on its own, according to a study.

Zombie or doomed ice is ice that is still attached to thicker areas of ice, but is no longer getting fed by those larger glaciers.

That is because the parent glaciers are getting less replenishing snow.

Meanwhile the doomed ice is melting from climate change, said study co-author William Colgan, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

“It’s dead ice. It’s just going to melt and disappear from the ice sheet,” Mr Colgan said in an interview.

“This ice has been consigned to the ocean, regardless of what climate (emissions) scenario we take now.”

Study lead author Jason Box, a glaciologist at the Greenland survey, said it is “more like one foot in the grave”.

The unavoidable 10in in the study is more than twice as much sea level rise as scientists had previously expected from the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet.

The study in the journal Nature Climate Change said it could reach as much as 30in (78 centimetres).

By contrast, last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projected a range of two to five inches (six to 13 centimetres) for likely sea level rise from Greenland ice melt by the year 2100.

What scientists did for the study was look at the ice in balance.

In perfect equilibrium, snowfall in the mountains in Greenland flows down and recharges and thickens the sides of glaciers, balancing out what is melting on the edges.

But in the last few decades there has been less replenishment and more melting, creating imbalance.


Study authors looked at the ratio of what is being added to what is being lost and calculated that 3.3% of Greenland’s total ice volume will melt no matter what happens with the world cutting carbon pollution, Mr Colgan said.

“I think starving would be a good phrase” for what is happening to the ice, Mr Colgan said.

One of the study authors said that more than 120 trillion tons (110 trillion metric tons) of ice is already doomed to melt from the warming ice sheet’s inability to replenish its edges.

When that ice melts into water, if it were concentrated only over the United States, it would be 37ft (11 metres) deep.

This is the first time scientists calculated a minimum ice loss – and accompanying sea level rise – for Greenland, one of Earth’s two massive ice sheets that are slowly shrinking because of climate change from burning coal, oil and natural gas.

Scientists used an accepted technique for calculating minimum committed ice loss, the one used on mountain glaciers for the entire giant frozen island.

Pennsylvania State University glaciologist Richard Alley, who was not part of the study but said it made sense, said the committed melting and sea level rise is like an ice cube put in a cup of hot tea in a warm room.

“You have committed mass loss from the ice,” Mr Alley said in an email.

“In the same way most of the world’s mountain glaciers and the edges of Greenland would continue losing mass if temperatures were stabilised at modern levels because they have been put into warmer air just as your ice cube was put in warmer tea.”

Although 10in does not sound like much, that is a global average.

Some coastal areas will be hit with more, and high tides and storms on top of that could be even worse, so this much sea level rise “will have huge societal, economic and environmental impacts”, said Ellyn Enderlin, a geosciences professor at Boise State University.

Time is the key unknown here and a bit of a problem with the study, said two outside ice scientists, Leigh Stearns of the University of Kansas and Sophie Nowicki of the University of Buffalo.

The researchers in the study said they could not estimate the timing of the committed melting, yet in the last sentence they mention “within this century”, without supporting it, Stearns said.

Mr Colgan responded that the team does not know how long it will take for all the doomed ice to melt, but making an educated guess, it would probably be by the end of this century or at least by 2150.

Mr Colgan said this is actually all a best case scenario.

The year 2012 (and to a different degree 2019 ) was a huge melt year, when the equilibrium between adding and subtracting ice was most out of balance.

If Earth starts to undergo more years like 2012, Greenland melt could trigger 30in (78 centimetres) of sea level rise, he said.

Those two years seem extreme now, but years that look normal now would have been extreme 50 years ago, he said.

“That’s how climate change works,” Mr Colgan said.

“Today’s outliers become tomorrow’s averages.”

Press Association
Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel