Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Icebergs, calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, float in the Ilulissat Icefjord off the coast of Greenland on May 16, 2022.

Icebergs, calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, float in the Ilulissat Icefjord off the coast of Greenland on May 16, 2022. (Photo: Thor Wegner/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Water From Major Greenland Ice Melt Could Fill 7.2 Million Olympic Swimming Pools

"It definitely worries me," said one scientist conducting research on Greenland's ice sheet.

Kenny Stancil

Several days of above-average temperatures in northern Greenland caused rapid melting of the country's precarious ice sheet this past weekend, underscoring why climate scientists and campaigners are demanding more ambitious policies to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, the primary source of planet-wrecking emissions.

"The amount of ice that melted in Greenland between July 15 and 17 alone—6 billion tons of water per day—would be enough to fill 7.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools," CNN reported Wednesday, citing findings from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado.

That's enough to cover all of West Virginia in a foot of water, the outlet noted. Last week, the state's right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin refused to support any clean energy provisions in his party's floundering reconciliation bill, which needs 50 votes to pass in the evenly split upper chamber.

"The northern melt this past week is not normal, looking at 30 to 40 years of climate averages," said Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at NSIDC. "But melting has been on the increase, and this event was a spike in melt."

Temperatures in northern Greenland have been hitting around 60ºF, or 10 degrees warmer than usual, in recent days—alarming scientists who are collecting data on the ice sheet.

"It definitely worries me," said Kutalmis Saylam, a scientist at the University of Texas who is currently conducting research in Greenland. "Yesterday we could wander around in our t-shirts—that was not really expected."

The Arctic, which has been heating up for over a century due to surging greenhouse gas pollution, is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world. Dangerous feedback loops are of particular concern. The replacement of reflective sea ice with dark ocean water leads to greater absorption of solar energy, and the thawing of permafrost portends the release of additional carbon dioxide and methane—both leading to accelerated temperature rise that triggers further melting, defrosting, and destablization.

In December, researchers estimated that the Arctic has been heating up four times faster than the rest of the globe over the past three decades. Another recent study found that 2021 was the 25th consecutive year in which Greenland's ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season than it gained during the winter. Rainfall is now projected to become more common in the Arctic than snowfall decades sooner than previously expected.

"Each summer, scientists worry that they will see a repeat of the record melting that occurred in 2019, when 532 billion tons of ice flowed out into the sea," CNN reported. "An unexpectedly hot spring and a July heat wave that year caused almost the entire ice sheet's surface to melt. Global sea level rose permanently by 1.5 millimeters as a result."

Ice melt in the region equivalent to more than six feet of global sea level rise is likely already locked in, experts say. But each fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference, so the stakes for adequate climate action are still immense even if a tipping point has been reached.

If Greenland's ice sheet were to disintegrate completely, sea levels would rise more than 22 feet—"enough to double the frequency of storm-surge flooding in many of the world's largest coastal cities" by the end of the century, scientists have warned.

By 2050, 150 million people worldwide could be displaced from their homes just by rising sea levels, according to some estimates.

Without a robust international effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions, that number could end up being far higher.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

EPA's Environmental Justice Office 'Won't Make Up for' Manchin Deal, Campaigner Says

"We've seen a lot of structural changes on environmental justice in the Biden, Obama and Clinton administrations, but we need to see the results," said Wes Gobar of the Movement for Black Lives.

Julia Conley ·


Historic Tropical Storm Fiona Sweeps Homes Into Ocean in Eastern Canada

"Climate change leads to warmer ocean water at higher latitudes," said one Canadian civil engineering professor. "A warmer future increases the probability that more intense storms will reach Canadian coasts."

Julia Conley ·


Federal Judge Allows 'Untenable' Plan to Send Juvenile Inmates to Angola Prison

"The move defies all common sense and best practices, and it will cause irrevocable damage to our youth and families," said one children's advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'Catastrophic': Arizona Judge Allows 1864 Abortion Ban to Go Into Effect

"No archaic law should dictate our reproductive freedom," said one rights advocate.

Julia Conley ·


US Progressives Express Solidarity With Iranian Protesters After Death of Mahsa Amini

"The right to choose belongs to us all, from hijabs to reproductive care," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo