Earth  ID: 11991

Ask A Climate Scientist - Thinning Ice Sheets

How can Greenland's ice sheets still be more than 10,000 feet thick, if carbon dioxide is warming the planet?

This was the question posed to polar scientist Kelly Brunt as part of NASA's Ask A Climate Scientist series.

According to Dr. Brunt, this is a great question because it addresses the concept of thickness, which is very important to polar scientists. It is easy to see that the ice sheets and sea ice are changing horizontally, covering less and less of the polar regions. But the ice is also thinning, getting smaller vertically.

Dr. Brunt compares the situation to walking outside on a really cold day. When the air temperature is very cold, it will still take a while for her core body temperature to drop. Her skin may be chilly, but it will take time for that cold to work deep inside.

Conversely, Greenland's ice is very thick and only the outer layer is experiencing the warming temperatures. But that layer is melting more often and a little bit of melting over such a large area produces a lot of extra water contributing to sea level rise.

See more of NASA's answers to your questions on climate science.



Matthew R. Radcliff (USRA): Lead Producer
Kelly Brunt (Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center/University of Maryland): Scientist
Michael Randazzo (AIMM): Editor
Matthew R. Radcliff (USRA): Editor
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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This item is part of these series:
Narrated Movies

Goddard TV Tape:
G2013-077 -- Ask A Climate Scientist

SVS >> Ice Sheets
SVS >> Melting
GCMD >> Location >> Greenland
NASA Science >> Earth

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version