Historically, Greenland has had little mention in comparison to places such as Antarctica with regards to its melting environment. However, new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that at present, Greenland is making up to 25% of the global mean sea level rise. A sharp increase from just over 20 years ago when the figure sat at 5%.
It appears warmer conditions have encouraged algae growth along Greenland's ice sheets, creating a darkened surface over the ice. Due to darker ice absorbing more solar radiation than its white counterpart, it's not surprising to learn that it melts at a much faster rate.
Dark patches of algae can be seen along Greenland's ice sheet.
Research has shown that the white snow that rests on top of the ice sheet reflects 90% of solar radiation. This is in comparison to the darker patches of algae only reflecting 35% of the solar radiation, the darkest spots only reflecting a mere 1%. Thus explaining why the algae is causing such an increased rate of melting.
Greenland holds the largest mass of ice in the northern hemisphere. It spans an area that is 7x the size of the UK, and that is 3km (2 miles) thick. If these ice sheets were to melt completely, it would mean that the average sea level around the globe would increase by an astonishing 7m.
This increase would leave the hundreds of millions of people already affected by rising sea levels in a more vulnerable position. As it stands, major coastal cities and small islands such as Miami and Mumbai, are severely threatened by rising sea levels.
Just an increase of 1mm in local sea level makes coastal destinations much more susceptible to frequent storms and unheard of flooding. Furthermore, with this algae acting as a contributing factor to rising sea levels, the effects upon communities would be detrimental. Some communities have even already begun constructing plans for when their homeland becomes uninhabitable.
A funded five-year UK research project called Black and Bloom is currently underway investigating the algae found on Greenland's ice sheets. It aims to identify the different species of algae forming on the surface, and the way in which the organism is able to spread. The research team is hoping that this new gathered information will enable them to create more accurate computer projections of what future sea levels will look like.
Microscopic images of the algae formed on top of the ice sheets
Over the last 20 years the natural balance that normally keeps the ice sheets stable has been altered. It has been recorded that Greenland has actually been losing more ice than it has gained through snowfall in the winter time.
In addition to this, satellite pictures taken over much of the same period have revealed that the years showing the darkest algae, are in fact the years producing the most meltwater.
A member of the research team, scientist Dr Andrew Tedstone, has stated that ''We still don't think we've reached a point where we've seen the maximum darkness [of algae] that we're going to see in this area''. Indicating the issue could in fact worsen over the coming years.
Global ice mass loss accounted for 50% of the rise in sea level in 1993, compared with 70% in 2014.
These new figures have whipped up much discussion and interest around the world. Due to the Black and Bloom Project's new projections for sea level rise not to be published for another two years, many are pushing to raise awareness now in order to reduce the risk posed.
A thought to end on is from Dr Joe Cook, a glacial microbiologist from Sheffield University. He states; ''only a small amount has to melt to threaten millions in coastal communities around world''. His words reiterate the fundamental message that rising sea level is an ever increasing problem which, without serious attention could lead to horrific irreversible consequences.