Greenland ice sheet
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contain 98-99 % of the freshwater ice on earth's surface. To illustrate their sizes, the volumes of the Antarctic and Greenlandic ice sheets are equivalent to a 57 and 7 m layer, respectively, of water on top of the world's oceans. When setting their upper estimate of a projected 59 cm sea-level rise by the end of this century, the IPCC did not take into account increased discharges into the ocean from the moving outlet glaciers of the ice sheets. The uncertainty about their future is therefore a main reason for uncertainties in projections of sea-level rise. The Greenland ice sheet is the most susceptible to warming because of its closeness to the Atlantic Ocean and other continents. But the more isolated Antarctica now also seems to be experiencing a net loss of ice, which may be accelerating (UNEP, 2007) (See indicator on sea-level rise.
The speed of ice loss is important as well as its magnitude because a faster rise in sea level reduces the time available to take appropriate adaptation measures.
The melt water from Greenland will contribute to reducing the salinity of the surrounding ocean. An upper layer of fresher water may reduce the formation of dense deep water, one of the mechanisms driving global ocean circulation.
- References Hanna, E.; Box, J. and Huybrechts, P., 2007. Greenland Ice Sheet mass balance. Arctic Report Card 2007. http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/ . IPCC, 2007a. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solomon, S.; Qin, D.; Manning, M.; Chen, Z.; Marquis, M.; Averyt, K. B.; Tignor M. and Miller H. L. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Rignot, E. and Kanagaratnam, P., 2006. Changes in the Velocity Structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science 17 (311): 986-990. Steffen, K., 2007. Presentation at AGU meeting December 2007, see http://cires.colorado.edu/news/press/2007/07-12-10greenland.html . UNEP, 2007. Global outlook for snow and ice. UNEP Arendal/ Nairobi 2007.
- Estimated changes of the ice mass in Greenland 1992-2006
- Area of Greenland ice sheet melting 1979-2007
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
No related policy documents have been specified
Key policy question
Methodology for indicator calculation
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Frequency of updates
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A – What is happening to the environment and to humans?)