September heat waves across Canada and the U.S. were so bad that the high temperatures melted ice all the way in Greenland. Strong winds from North America carried the hot air to the northeast, raising average temperatures there more than 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to past Septembers, according to Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth observation program.
Data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center’s (NSIDC) Summit Station recorded temperatures of 0 degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) at an elevation of more than 10,500 feet above sea level. This is the first time the Center recorded temperatures that high in that elevation since their records began. It wasn’t just the Center’s station that saw the effects of the record snowmelt event. Most of Greenland saw the highest average temperatures for September since records began in 1979, per Copernicus.
The unseasonably warm temperatures caused melting to occur across more than a third of the ice sheet, according to NSIDC. So much of the ice melted that more than 30 billion tons of surface water from Greenland flowed into the ocean.
The heatwaves in the U.S. throughout September were alarming. At the very beginning of last month, more than 50 million people were under heat warnings and advisories across multiple states including Utah, California, and Arizona.
Scientists and officials have worried about the rate of Greenland’s ice melt for some time. But this year’s melt events have been especially concerning. In July, temperatures in the usually cold country spiked to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius). That’s up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average for the month, CNN reported.
Scientists expect to see huge melt events in the middle of the summer, so though the scale of this past July’s melt is troubling, the timing isn’t a surprise. The melt season lasts from May to late September, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. But the melt event recorded in September was the second-largest melt spike all year, and the largest in any September on record, NASA says. Researchers that study the Arctic worry this could become more common in the future.
“This event demonstrates how global warming does not only increase the intensity but also the length of the melting season,” Maurice van Tiggelen, a polar scientist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, told the Washington Post in an email last month.
The Arctic is warming up faster than anywhere else on earth due to climate change. The ice that covers our poles naturally reflects sunlight away from the planet, so less ice and snow means that less sunlight is reflected away from the world. This can create a dangerous feedback loop, in which less ice means more heat is absorbed, which causes even faster melting. We can’t afford to lose more ice.