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Rain Fell On The Peak Of Greenland's Ice Sheet For The First Time In Recorded History

A researcher looks at a canyon created by a meltwater stream on the glacial ice sheet in Greenland in 2013.
A researcher looks at a canyon created by a meltwater stream on the glacial ice sheet in Greenland in 2013.

Greenland saw rain at the highest point of its ice sheet for the first time since scientists have been making observations there, the latest signal of how climate change is affecting every part of the planet.

According to the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center, rain fell for several hours on an area 10,551 feet in elevation on Aug. 14, an unprecedented occurrence for a location that rarely sees temperatures above freezing.

It was also the latest date in the year scientists had ever recorded above-freezing temperatures at the National Science Foundation's Summit Station.

The rainfall coincided with the ice sheet's most recent "melt event," in which temperatures get high enough that the thick ice begins to melt.

Rising global temperatures driven by climate change have made extreme weather events more common. The Greenland Ice Sheet is no exception.

There were two major melt events there in July. Scientists also recorded melt events on the ice sheet in 2019, 2012, and 1995. Before then, "melting is inferred from ice cores to have been absent since an event in the late 1800s," the center said.

The melting event that occurred during the August rain mirrored those that took place in July, which came about after "a strong low pressure center over Baffin Island and high air pressure southeast of Greenland" pushed warm air and moisture north, the scientists said.

Greenland's ice sheet — one of just two on Earth, the other in Antarctica — is about 656,000 square miles of glacial land ice, blanketing the majority of the country.

The Arctic region is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the planet under climate change. Global average temperatures have risen about 1 degree Celsius, or almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the growth of industrialization and fossil fuel use in the mid-19th century. The Arctic region has warmed by almost 2 degrees Celsius so far.

Because of hotter global temperatures, Greenland and Antarctica lost enough ice over the last 16 years to fill all of Lake Michigan, a 2020 study found. The melting has implications for people far from Greenland. The ice loss is helping drive sea level rise, threatening coastal communities around the world with flooding.

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