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Greenland Ice Sheet is Melting

For years, scientists and researchers have studied the impact of the planet’s warming on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. But a recent new footage shot showed one stark reality of climate change – a huge portion of Greenland is melting away. The New York Times deployed a drone to capture the devastating effects of rising temperatures on the northern Atlantic nation. The drone’s cameras rolled as it flew above part of Greenland’s melting ice sheet. Scientists are using the footage to document and better understand just how quickly Greenland is melting. Brandon Overstreet, a doctoral candidate in hydrology at the University of Wyoming, and a team of six other researchers are working on this project, the results of which could provide groundbreaking information on how fast the ice is melting.

Climate change and global warming have always been the hot topics of discussion all over the world and these discussions have always particularly been relevant to Greenland as the ice sheet is often mentioned in connection with the debates on increase in global temperature. Greenland’s ice cap contains 10 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water and is especially vulnerable to climate change. The Greenland ice sheet has experienced record melting in recent years since detailed records were kept and is likely to contribute substantially to rise in the sea level. If temperatures continue to rise, it is natural to ask how much the planet’s ice masses will be affected.

The only place with more ice than Greenland is Antarctica. But Greenland is warming twice as fast as Antarctica, and this rapid melting is raising the global sea levels at an alarming rate – even faster than expected. In August, a big mass of the ice broke off the Jakobshavn Glacier – one of the fastest flowing ice streams in Greenland and one of the fastest melting in the world. Some observers have even speculated that the area of ice lost could be the largest on record. The glacier is responsible for draining a large portion of the Green ice sheet. This glacier alone could contribute to sea level rise than any other single feature in the Northern Hemisphere.

This summer in Greenland, the team of scientists set up their camp on the ice, where they hoped to capture the first comprehensive measurements of the rate of melting. The research could yield valuable information for the scientists to test if current climate models are accurate, which will be published in the next few months. The data can then be used to create a new model to estimate the amount of water flowing from thousands of similar rivers. And the data gathered from the river at the top of the sheet will be compared with measurements the scientists have taken at its foot. With both sets of data, the scientists can then help create the most accurate projections to date of the rate of sea level rise.

Greenland is the world’s largest island and is almost completely covered by ice. Scientists estimate that about 695,000 square miles of its surface is coated with glaciers – an area 14 times the size of England. Greenland contains vast reservoirs of ice which, if completely melted, would increase sea levels by about 20 feet worldwide.

“We scientists love to sit at our computers and use climate models to make those predictions,” said Laurence C. Smith, head of the geography department at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the leader of the team that worked in Greenland this summer. “But to really know what’s happening, that kind of understanding can only come about through empirical measurements in the field.”

In this extreme environment, The New York Times used a drone to report the assignment, opening a new path for the readers to experience the stories. Though the project presented unique challenges – each battery in the drone lasted only 8 to 10 minutes in Greenland’s frozen air – the results were immensely spectacular. In the end, all went good, and Times were able to capture some amazing shots from crazy angles and that was only possible because of the drone.

"During the flight, I was mesmerized as I watched the live video from the camera on a tablet attached to my controller. I thought: This is what birds must feel as they fly up Alpine streams, skimming the surface of the water," Josh Haner, a Pulitzer-winning photographer for the Times, wrote in an article about the process.