NASA Confirms Greenland Ice Cap Melting

The Greenland ice cap is thinning around the edges and slightly thickening in the center.

July 20, 2000
Web posted at: 2:05 p.m. EDT (1805 GMT)

(CNN) -- An ice cap covering much of Greenland is shrinking rapidly and releasing enough water to raise sea levels, according to a report released Thursday.

NASA scientists flew over Greenland in 1993 and 1994, and again in 1998 and 1999, using airborne lasers to measure the thickness of the ice sheet, which covers nearly 85 percent of the island. Their research shows it is thinning around the edges at a rate of about three feet (1 meter) a year.

Ice at the center of Greenland is becoming slightly thicker. But as it turns out, that progression is the
result of weather changes related to the loss of ice over the remainder of the island, NASA scientists

After Antarctica, Greenland's ice cap contains the second largest mass of frozen freshwater in the world. The Arctic island has a net loss of about 50 billion gallons (227 billion liters) of ice each year, which can cause a measurable rise in sea levels.


Is the thinning ice cap evidence of global warming? In one lifetime, the rise would be nearly 1 centimeter (0.4 inches), if the rate were to remain the same, according to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which coordinated the study research.

Should that rate increase, or other factors push the level higher, the result could prove disastrous.

"When you consider a flat beach, an inch in sea level rise covers a large horizontal distance," said NASA researcher Waleed Abdalati. "There are instances where there are large storm events because the water's closer to the land. So it's something to be studied. It's something to be considered."

The NASA report, published in the July 21 issue of Science, does not mention global warming. But some scientists note that the massive patches of ice near the North and South Pole reflect sunlight back into space, helping regulate the temperature of the Earth.

Correspondent David George contributed to this report.