This summer — which brought the hottest June and July on record — is coming to an end. But the devastation climate change is having on one of the planet’s most important environmental sites is far from over.
By the end of this warm season, at least 440 billion tons of ice will have melted or split off Greenland’s giant ice sheet. It's a record for the country, known as ground zero for climate change. And its effects will be felt worldwide.
TODAY co-host and meteorologist Al Roker traveled to the Arctic Circle to report on what this means for the planet, following environmental experts and NASA as they collect information.
New York University professor David Holland invited Al on his research vessel to see how his team is studying the rapidly melting glaciers.
Holland explained that the top several hundred feet of cold water is coming from the Arctic Ocean. Underneath it, however, is warm water from the tropics, specifically the Gulf Stream. When the warm water hits the glaciers, he said, “It melts them like crazy.”
Holland and other scientists take daily measurements of the ocean’s temperature, level of salt and depth to see how thick that layer of warm water is getting.
After retrieving measurements, the team plots the data and begins the yearlong process of analyzing its exact effects on the glaciers.
While out with Holland's group, Al witnessed a new discovery.
The team found out that the water directly in front of the Helheim Glacier was warm from the ocean floor to the surface, lapping at the edge of the glacier. It was the first time the NYU team witnessed warm water at the surface of the glacier, a sign that melting could potentially be occurring at an even faster rate than expected.
In addition to seeing how researchers work to collect data deep in the sea, Al got to travel with NASA scientists to explore from the air.
NASA scientist Josh Willis and his team drop probes from airplanes to measure how much the oceans are warming. Al joined them on a mission, seeing the disturbing view of thousands of broken pieces of glacier.
“Greenland has enough ice to raise sea levels globally by 25 feet, which is an enormous amount,” Willis said. “If that much sea level rise happened today, hundreds of millions of people around the world would be affected.”
Their operation is called Oceans Melting Greenland mission, aptly nicknamed “OMG.”
To get a complete picture of climate change’s impact on the Arctic, Al traveled to what’s left of the Apusiaajik Glacier, where chunks of ice come falling and crashing down by the hour.
“It's very important here, standing on ice, to realize that we are on the first step of a domino effect that then later we call climate change,” said glacier guide Nicco Segreto.
The extent of ice melt in Greenland will eventually help determine just how high sea levels, globally, will rise.
Erin McGarry, NBC Climate & Weather unit senior producer, contributed to this article.