Aug. 16, 1933 & July 28, 2013
Natural History Museum of Denmark/University of Copenhagen
By Justin Worland and Marisa Gertz
August 15, 2016

Year after year of record heat largely due to man-made global warming has hit hard across the globe. And nowhere have the impacts been more devastating than in the Arctic where temperatures are rising more than twice as fast as the global average and ice is quickly disappearing.

Photos taken by a research team from Denmark capture how warming has hit glaciers in Greenland, where ice melt has been occurring at a faster rate than ever in recorded history. Researchers captured the images, published in the book The Greenland Ice Sheet, in the exact location their predecessor had taken photos eight decades prior as temperatures had just begun to warm. Side by side, the images offer a stark comparison showing vast areas once covered in ice now empty land.

Take the Mittivakkat Glacier on the island’s southeast coast. A black-and-white image from 1933 shows the glacier occupying the entire a valley. In an image from 2010, the glacier has completely disappeared.

“Climate change is particularly evident here and its consequences for people and nature are considerable,” said Ralf Hemmingsen, rector of the University of Copenhagen in the book’s foreword, “both for Greenland and the rest of the world.”

Scientists have understood for sometime how climate change is causing ice melt in Greenland. Satellite measurements taken since 1979 have shown a 12% decline in sea ice per decade, according to a Nature report. But a lack of earlier record keeping and satellite measurements has presented a challenge for scientists who hope to understand how ice levels have changed over time in Greenland. Now, scientists who study glaciers are using the photo comparison to improve their understanding of how ice levels have changed over time, according to a news article in the journal Nature.

Ice loss in Greenland presents challenges for the small communities located on the island, technically an autonomous part of Denmark, but ice melt also has profound effects across the globe, most significantly contributing to sea level rise that threatens cities along the coasts. Nearly 700,000 cubic miles of ice are located on Greenland’s ice sheet, covering three quarters of the island. Scientists say that 23 feet in global sea level rise would result if all that ice melted, drawing many cities across the globe.

It’s still possible to avoid such a catastrophic scenario, but scientists say action is needed fast. Current warming results from greenhouse gas emissions emissions from years and decades ago. No matter what we do now, the globe will continue to warm of the foreseeable future—and Greenland’s ice will continue to melt.

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