Unprecedented May Heat In Greenland, Temperature Hits Stunning 76.6°F

Figure 1. Difference between the number of melt days in 2011 and the average number of melt days during the period 1979 – 2010. Large sections of the island experienced twenty more days with melting conditions than average. Image: Arctic Report Card.

by Jeff Masters, via the WunderBlog

The record books for Greenland’s climate were re-written [last] Tuesday, when the mercury hit 24.8°C (76.6°F) at Narsarsuaq, Greenland, on the southern coast. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, this is the hottest temperature on record in Greenland for May, and is just 0.7°C (1.3°F) below the hottest temperature ever measured in Greenland. The previous May record was 22.4°C (72.3°F) at Kangerlussuaq (called Sondre Stormfjord in Danish) on May 31, 1991. The 25.2°C at Narsarsuaq on June 22, 1957 is the only June temperature measured in Greenland warmer than yesterday’s 24.8°C reading. Wunderground’s extremes page shows that the all-time warmest temperature record for Greenland is 25.5°C (77.9°F) set on July 26, 1990.

The exceptional warmth this week was caused by the combination of an intense ridge of high pressure and a local foehn wind, said the Danish Meteorological Institute. The unusual May heat has extended to Scotland, which had its hottest May temperature on record on May 25 at Achnagart: 29.3°C (85°F). Greenland’s Narsarsuaq has seen a string of 3 consecutive days over 70°F this week–the 3rd, 7th, and 12th warmest days there since record keeping began in 1941. The ridge of high pressure responsible is expected to stay in place several more days, bringing additional 70° days over Southern Greenland. The warm May temperatures could be setting the stage for a big Greenland melt season this summer–the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) is predicting a 50 – 60% that the southern 2/3 of Greenland will experience above-average temperatures this summer. They forecast just a 10 – 15% chance of below-average temperatures.

Why Greenland is important

If the massive icecap on Greenland were to melt, global sea level would rise 7 meters (23 ft).

Temperatures in Greenland are predicted to rise [at least] 3°C by 2100, to levels similar to those present during that warm period 120,000  years ago. During that period, roughly half of the Greenland ice sheet melted, increasing sea level by 2.2 – 3.4 meters (7.2 – 11.2 ft.) However, the 2007 IPCC report expects melting of the Greenland ice sheet to occur over about a 1,000 year period, delaying much of the expected sea level rise for many centuries. While Greenland’s ice isn’t going to be melting completely and catastrophically flooding low-lying areas of the earth in the next few decades (sea level is only rising about 3 mm per year or 1.2 inches per decade at present), the risk later this century needs to be taken seriously.

Higher sea levels will cause increased erosion, salt water intrusion, and storm surge damage in coastal areas, in addition to a loss of barrier formations such as islands, sand bars, and reefs that would normally protect coastal zones from battering by waves and wind. Additionally, coastal zones are sites of incredible economic and agricultural activity, which would also be negatively affected by higher sea levels. Currently, melting ice from Greenland is thought to cause about 0.7 mm/year of global sea level rise, which is about 20 – 25% of the global total, according to an international research group led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, in an article published the latest issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 1 June 2012. In 2007, the IPCC estimated that Greenland ice melt was responsible for only 10 – 15% of the total global sea level rise.

Ice loss in Greenland is accelerating, and if current ice loss trends continue for the next ten years, Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise will double to 1.4 mm/yr by 2022. The increased ice loss in Greenland is being driven by a combination of warmer air temperatures, warmer ocean temperatures, and loss of Arctic sea ice. Ocean temperatures surrounding Southern Greenland have increased by 1 – 2°C since 1990 (figure at right.)

Figure 2. Monthly unsmoothed values of the total mass (in gigatons, Gt), of the Greenland ice sheet from the GRACE satellites. On the horizontal axis, each year begins on 1 January. Each small + symbol is a monthly value. Between 2003 – 2009, Greenland lost an average of 250 gigatons of ice per year. In 2011, the loss was 70% greater than that. Image: Arctic Report Card

Update on the 2011 Greenland melt season
According to the 2011 Arctic Report Card, it was another very warm year in Greenland in 2011, which led to substantial melting of the ice. Here are some of the highlights from the report:

1) The area and duration of melting at the surface of the Greenland ice sheet in summer 2011 were the third highest since 1979.

2) Increased surface melting and below average summer snowfall in recent years has made the icecap steadily darker. In 2011, the icecap had the lowest reflectivity (albedo) of any year since satellite measurements of reflectivity began in 2000.

3) The area of glaciers that empty into the sea continued to decrease, though at less than half the rate of the previous 10 years.

4) Total ice sheet mass loss in 2011 was 70% larger than the 2003 – 2009 average annual loss rate of -250 gigatons per year. According to satellite gravity data obtained since 2002, ice sheet mass loss is accelerating.

Jeff Masters is the founder of the Weather Underground. This piece was originally published at the WunderBlog and was reprinted with permission.

Related Climate Progress Posts:

19 Responses to Unprecedented May Heat In Greenland, Temperature Hits Stunning 76.6°F

  1. Mark E says:

    It will be interesting to see if Hansen is right yet again, and ice sheets’ contribution to sea level rise will prove to be nonlinear and not confined to just 2m by 2100. Besides calving, there’s ablation, melt pond evaporation, surface drainage, and…. could the ice sheets have large scale underground drain networks? Maybe not on the scale of recently-discovered Rio Hamza (underground river _under_ the Amazon discharging to the sea offshore) but maybe a network of smaller channels of collective size? How would one find them? Anyway….. on sea level rise I’m eagerly watching for new insight as to who is right, Pfeffer or Hansen

  2. Paul Klinkman says:

    An unprecedented high temperature in May concerns me because the Arctic is a methane bomb waiting to go off.

    High air temperatures early on will change the surface texture of ice sheets and sea ice, so that they absorb solar heat better. High temperatures are a trigger for bigger methane releases.

    Never mind our grandchildren’s lifetimes. We could pick up some nasty windstorms and megafires in ours, if the methane release system keeps accelerating.

    Geologic records indicate that a 17 degree jump in Greenland’s temperature took place in a 10 year period, so we know that this phenomenon exists.

  3. john atcheson says:

    I’m very surprised anyone would quote the 2007 IPCC report when it comes to Greenland melt rates (it would take place over a 1000 year period).

    I know Masters knows better, but a casual reader might think he endorsed that view. In fact, the IPCC itself said the report was outdated the day it was published in this regard.

    He goes on to say serious melting could occur before the end of this Century, but jeez, with deniers laying in wait to pounce and take things out of context, a bit more care, please.

  4. Tom King says:

    I once had a faulty freezer that filled up completely with solid ice. I aimed a fan at it, left the door open and figured it would take several days to melt. To my surprise it only took a few hours.
    Once Greenland starts getting hit by tropical rainstorms from the Caribbean, I bet it will surprise us in the same way.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The huge gaps between IPCC Reports is proving fatally mistaken. Perhaps at some stage the powers-that-be thought that we had the time to waste to issue reports at such desultory intervals, but that is plainly mistaken. And for the 2007 Report to have been released with already plainly outdated information, is yet another disaster. Of course when the next Report is released the denialist genocidaires will launch another lie-fest, and ask ‘How can things have got so much worse, so quickly’, which will be enough for those brainless frogs, the Dunning-Krugerites.

  6. Solar Jim says:

    We are really cooking now boys and girls (the planet that is). Next up: scuba sales in the New York Subway.

    Can anyone say “submergence.” Good thing the queen got that flotilla thing going. Practice makes perfect.

    Hey, we love our subsidized carbonic acid precursors, aka fossil ignition substance abuse. And to hell with all the dammed forests too, Tropical-Temperate-Boreal. We need not live here, we’re going to Mars or something.

    We’re green because we are greening the Arctic by icemelt, and soon it will be a center of green dollar profit as well. All is well, or we’ll be in one.

  7. EDpeak says:

    Global warming changes tundras into forests much faster than anyone expected

    Well, we knew this was going to happen eventually – but now scientists
    are actually seeing it with their own eyes. Researchers from Finland and Oxford University have discovered that large swaths of European and Asian arctic tundra are quickly turning into forests. They’re attributing it to climate change, but what’s worse is that the trend could significantly accelerate global warming should it spread across the entire tundra.


    “It’s a big surprise that these plants are reacting in this way,” said Dr Marc Macias-Fauria of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology and the Oxford Martin School, first author of the paper. “Previously people had thought that the tundra might be colonised by trees from the boreal forest to the south as the Arctic climate warms, a process that would take centuries. But what we’ve found is that the shrubs that are already there are transforming into trees in just a few decades.”

    “The speed and magnitude of the observed change is far greater than we expected,” said Professor Bruce Forbes of the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, corresponding author of the paper.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    How about carving that on our species’ tombstone- ‘The speed and magnitude of the observed changes (was) far greater than we expected’. And the Rightwing genocidaires are still allowed to get away with slandering the mild-mannered scientific community as ‘alarmist’. If it weren’t so hideously tragic, you’d laugh and laugh.

  9. Tom King says:

    Interesting point. I suspect the report interval also reflected that no one realized how fast the climate would start changing. In that sense it’s really a wake up call when a climate report is out of date after only four years. Given enough time, perhaps climate will be changing as fast as the weather.

  10. Raul M. says:

    I’m glad observations may still influence calculations.

  11. Leif says:

    I hope you are right Raul. Unfortunately reality does not appear to have much effect on the tin hats. Oceans are acidifying, fish stocks plummeting, asthma increasing, food production decreasing, weather worsening, species dying, I can go on but you get the picture, yet still profits for the few by exploiting and polluting the commons is untouchable.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    The foehn wind mentioned by Jeff Masters is a warm dry wind with a reputation for sublimation of ice directly to water vapor, operating a bit like your fan.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The latest Report was, in fact, out of date the day it was released.

  14. Karl says:

    “Big events throw their shadows upfront…”

  15. Raul M. says:

    good morning Leif,
    It’s a new day and I’m going to try to enjoy and be good.

  16. Owen says:

    I think the legend for the GRACE plot should indicate that the y-axis is an anomaly in Gt, and not the total Greenland ice mass.

  17. chada says:

    time to say goodbye to arctic animals…

  18. Thanks again to Think Progress Climate. Sort of rebuts the North Carlina Legislation deniying climate change- right there. As I posted before, radical problems demand thinking outside the box, searching for cost effective, radical new solutions.
    One: fossil fuels can be replaced by “aqueous fuel systems”- browns gas- the Stan Meyers system, magnetic resonance radical steam ionisation (guess what kiddies we can get it to burn- hot steam water vapour disassociation.)
    Gravity Field Retransformation- based carbon recapture- and co² disassociation. GFR based mass desal and demineralisation systems- to irrigate the world´s deserts- compensation for polar meltdown- greending them and pulling more co² out of the atmosphere. (Not expensive compared to the loss of coastal real estate implied here.)
    And GFR based re-freezing of the polar ice caps from below- i.e. dropping GFR powered ionisation units on the arctic and antartic shelf ocean floors… the radical positive ionized and lightened water passing through the units will rise to the surface… under the thin ice caps in winter…or freezing on open surfaces- as an ion crystallisation process also repels the salts and suspended minerals out of the water. Special converted
    tankers equipped with GFR units will be able to shoot up up to hundred or so cubic meters of cool water into the dry Foehn winds on the Windward side of Greenland for 8 months out of the year, reinforcing the Greenland ice pack.

    While the U.S. is paralyzed by Republican Climate Change denial – Europe is not, and is well aware of the near future and present challenges. Anybody who has waded across St. Marks square in Venice is fully aware of the problems of oceans rising due to ice cap and glacial meltdowns.
    Correct problems definition is the first step towards finding innovative and radically new technological solutions directed towards solving the problem.

    This summer is going to be a whopper for the U.S. – the tornada season has already started very early in the season- starting in Fort Worth and Dallas. Melted coastal arctic waters- mean more cold fronts coming down and clashing- with warm fronts- creating more super tornados over the continental U.S., and even”normal” tornados over Europe. Tornado warnings are something entirel new in Bavaria where I live. Increased co² content in the oceans mean warmer oceans and increased hurricane potentials. This year is going to see some whoppers coming over the Atlantic to the Caribean which will make Katrina look like child´s play. Newport News is regularly flooded by high tides these days.

    Look, the Europeans no longer expect the Americans to be able to act due to the climate of climate change denial. Countries most threatened by oceans rising such as Italy, northern France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Sweden are going their own way looking for radical new solutions. GFR powered mass desalinisation and co² recapture and breakdown are two of the emerging technologies, just as aqueous fuel technologies are emerging (U.S. “garage inventors” such as the late Stan Meyers made some very surprising discoveries in the area of “aqeuous fuel systems and many Europeans are now taking then very seriously. because we have no alternative but to take them very seriously.)
    Economically it will pay off and mean full employment just as “war” means full employment – with general mobilization. And Europe is moving faster and faster towards general mobilizatin in a “global war against global warming.” Of course, some of these fossil fuel saving, economical developments will spill over into the U.S. despite the “climate change denialist” lobby: such as very fuel efficient- aqueous fuel aided automobiles. (Imagine an aqueous fuel aided, carbon fibre body- plug in VW diesel hybrid getting 2400 miles off a gallon of diesel. It will sell like hotcakes in the U.S. despite the hefty price tag. ) >Or imagine VW marketing various sized Aqueous aided Blockhouse systems in the U.S.: i.e. various sized VW engines- running 90% aqueous- 10% nat gas- driving a generator, with secondary alpha stirling motors driving a generator, and remaining exhaust heat going for heat and hot water? Or a GFR powered infinate range all electric vehicle which actually cools the atmosphere while running.
    I don´t know. We noticed North Carolina legislating nonsense aboutclimate change denial. However, it gets hit with increasing tornado damage every year as well as getting hit by summer hurricanes. (Imagine a polar cold front clashing with a tropical storm over North Carolina- hurricane plus tornodos. A distinct possibility these days. The weather disasters and the flooding will increase to the point where nobody can deny it anymore. Wisconson just voted for Scott Walker, a climate change denier in addition to being anti-union… and polar fronts coming down over that state could do a lot to wake up the citizens to the danger of polar storm tornadoes. A cold front moving from the melted arctic coast line, picking up more power over Hudson Bay, and sweeping down over the great lakes- over a hot spell dry land. Europe will again be feeling the anomalies this fall with Med basin tropical storms. Northern Europe will remain abnormally cool this summer with one polar low pressure front after the other moving over the continent- while Russia and Siberia swelter.

    If you haven´t noticed, the weather is already screwed up. Tornados in France, Belgium and Germany?

    There are seasonal Northerly winds along the Adriatic, which when combined with the right position of the moon, cause flooding in Venice. As I stated before, when Venice sinks beneath the waves- its gondlieris can emigrate to New York to carry Wall Street brokers down the Wall Street Canal.

    No. The Climate Change denialists are like superstitious medieval peasants with no idea as to how to cope with the black plague. I expect Arizona and New Mexico to suffer from more drought while Texas gets hit by some more bad tornodo storms and tropical storms. New Orleans could go under water again this year.

    Check it all out. This is not going to be an easy year at all. Worsening typhoons have already alerted the Chinese, and they are desperate to reduce co² emissions by any and all RE systems available.

    Several years ago, we had a strange antartic cold front phenomenal south of Australia unleasing steady storms across the Indian ocean which meant weeks of flooding in Pakistan. (A few years prior to that, it left a massive storm devastating southern Africa, remember.) As bizarre as it may sound, the next one like that could flood the Persion gulf region, making the Arabian peninsula look like one big lake. Then we can expect another bad El Nino effect this late fall and early winter.

    We have the existing and emerging technologies to do a massive turn around, unfortunatly so few people take it at all seriously.

    The news is not surprising, but it is still a frightening, very real scenario which demands a global war against global warming.