Greenland ice sheet
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
The fate of the Greenland ice sheet highlights potentially major consequences of climate change as it is directly linked to global sea-level rise. The speed of ice loss, known as the ice sheet ‘mass balance’, is the most important indicator of ice sheet change. An increased rate of mass loss results in a faster rise in sea level. In addition, melt water from Greenland reduces 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.
- Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 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.
- Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA): Climate Change and the Cryosphere AMAP (2011) Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA): Climate Change and the Cryosphere. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo.
- Estimated changes of the ice mass in Greenland
- Yearly cumulated melt area of Greenland ice sheet
- Gigatonnes/year (Gt/yr)
- % change compared to 1979
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 White Paper stresses the need to improve the knowledge base and to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. The European Commission will be publishing an EU Adaptation Strategy in 2013. A number of Member States have already taken action, and several have prepared national adaptation plans.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG Climate Action: What is the EU doing about climate change?
Activities of the EU regarding climate change (both mitigation and adaptation)
White paper - Adapting to climate change: towards a European framework for action
EU framework for adaptation to climate change, leading to a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy by 2013
Key policy question
What is the trend in the mass and the melting area of the Greenland ice sheet , and what is the effect on global sea level?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Estimates are based on the mass budget method based on a combination of the output from regional climate models and various satellite-borne datasets (altimetry and gravimetry data).
The graphs show the data as delivered by the authors of the referenced publications; a linear trend line was added.
Methodology for gap filling
- Ice Sheets and Sea Level: Thinking Outside the Box van den Broeke, M. (2011) Ice Sheets and Sea Level: Thinking Outside the Box. Surveys in Geophysics. doi:10.1007/s10712-011-9137-z
- Melting trends over the Greenland ice sheet (1958–2009) from spaceborne microwave data and regional climate models Fettweis, X., Tedesco, M., van den Broeke, M. and Ettema, J. (2011) Melting trends over the Greenland ice sheet (1958–2009) from spaceborne microwave data and regional climate models. The Cryosphere 5(2), 359–375. doi:10.5194/tc-5-359-2011
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
- Recent mass balance estimates of the Greenland ice sheet
- Annual cumulated melt area of the Greenland ice sheet
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Data on the cryosphere vary significantly with regard to availability and quality. Snow and ice cover have been monitored globally since satellite measurements started in the 1970s. Improvements in technology allow for more detailed observations and higher resolution. Direct historical area-wide data on the Greenland ice sheet tracks about 20 years, but reconstructions give a 200 000 year perspective.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
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
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A – What is happening to the environment and to humans?)