The viral image that illustrates the scale of melting ice in Greenland | #TheCube

The sled of the scientist Steffen M. Olsen, travelling on a layer of water in Greenland
The sled of the scientist Steffen M. Olsen, travelling on a layer of water in Greenland Copyright Steffen M. Olsen // Blue Action
By Rafael CerecedaMatthew Holroyd
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Danish climatoligist Steffen M. Olsen captured this photo of his dog sled apparently travelling on water last week, as temperatures rose 40 degrees Fahrenheit above average.


The saying goes that an image is worth a thousand words.

Danish climatologist Steffen M. Olsen captured the image above on June 13 on a routine mission through the Inglefield Gulf in northwest Greenland.

Olsen had the difficult task of retrieving measuring devices that had been planted on the ice for the Blue Action mission. But when he set out with his dog sled, he found that the ice sheet was hidden beneath a shallow lake of water.

His incredible photo was shared on Twitter by fellow scientist Rasmus Tonboe and is now trending around the world as a warning about the speed at which Arctic ice is melting.

"This is absolutely extraordinary, to see so much meltwater on top of the ice," said Rasmus Tonboe.

"Normally, meltwater runs into cracks and percolates through the ice flow, but I have never seen anything like in the photo before."

Figures from the National Snow & Ice Data Center show that approximately 712,000 km2 of Greenland’s surface has melted on June 12th, more than 470,000 km2 more than the same date in 2018. This was also more than 600,000km2 more than the median average from 1981 to 2010. Over 40% of Greenland experienced melting on that one day alone, with total ice loss estimated to be more than 2 gigatons (equal to 2 billion tons).

Olsen later tweeted to say the measuring devices had been found.

National Snow & Ice Data Center
Greenland’s daily melt extent with the percentage of the ice sheet experiencing melt for each day in 2019National Snow & Ice Data Center

This much melting this early in the summer could lead to further records for Greenland ice loss being broken in 2019.

In 2012, Greenland experienced the most melting on record, when, for a few days, 97% of the entire ice sheet indicated surface melting. Those monitoring the ice sheet say 2019 could rival this figure.

Temperatures in Greenland rose to 40 degrees above normal last Wednesday, and open water now exists in places north of Alaska where it seldom, if ever, has in recent times.

Speaking to Euronews, Professor Jason Box, an ice climatologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, explained the significance of continual global warming.

“This extra fresh water that is flooding into the North Atlantic is disrupting ocean circulation patterns, and we don’t fully understand the consequences, but it could bring stronger storms to northwestern Europe’.

Many regions of the world have experienced extreme weather events related to climate change, such as heat wave in India, the floods in China and the violent storms of Europe in recent days.

On Twitter, Olsen himself also explained that communities in Greenland rely on ice for transport and hunting.

The Danish Meteorological Institute announced last month that the melt season had begun nearly one month earlier than expected, and the second earliest recorded since 1980.

But there are hopes that increased awareness of climate change from Steffen Olsen’s photo could help slow down the effects.

“We need to firstly stop emitting extra carbon into the atmosphere and secondly we need to bring the carbon out of the atmosphere and store that somehow - underground, in the oceans - to prevent this enhanced greenhouse effect,” said Professor Box.


The process of storing carbon appears to be essential to prevent melting on the scale seen in Steffen Olsen’s photo. The satellite images below paint the dramatic picture Greenland's ice today compared to the same month in previous years.

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