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Greenland’s History Could Help People Survive Climate Change

First Posted: Dec 08, 2016 04:56 AM EST
Greenland Ice Cap
Even if people may deny there is climate change, it won't change the fact that the seawater level will rise once Greenland's ice melts.
(Photo : Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

When George R.R. Martin wrote about The Wall, he might as well have been thinking about Greenland -- a country so covered in walls of ice, thousands of feet thick. When melted completely, water levels around the world could rise by over 20 feet.

However, Greenland's ice is not consistent in its mass: it has grown and shrunk over time, thanks to the variations in the climate. Still, mapping out the history of the changes can be a difficult task, and it seems that there is more to it than it seems.

One study from Joerg Schaefer noted that Greenland was almost entirely ice-free for long periods in the last 2.6 million years. Another study, by Paul Bierman, said the opposite -- that there had been a stable ice sheet over East Greenland for most of the past 7.5 million years. While these studies are at odds with each other, Popular Science noted that it was not black and white: Greenland's history is far more complex than that.

The results just indicate that there is a lot that need to be discovered. Bierman shared, "It's like the parable of the blind person and the elephant, we each know our little pieces of this but we don't have the whole picture figured out."

One thing is for sure, though. Climate change deniers aside, data do show that the Earth is getting warmer, and this could cause ice to melt. Scientific American said that at this rate, it will take only about 2,500 years before Greenland becomes ice-free. Bierman noted that there is no debate in the scientific community regarding the warmer weather -- and this could equate to 7 meters worth of sea ice in case Greenland does become more land than ice in the future.

Schaefer, too, agrees with the picture. He shared, "This not to steer panic or something, it just is what it is. We have to prepare for these higher sea level scenarios."

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