Scientists Blindsided by Rain at the Summit of Greenland’s Ice Cap

“This is unprecedented. We are crossing thresholds not seen in millennia.”

A portion of the Greenland ice cap, as seen from the air.Getty

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This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Rain has fallen on the summit of Greenland’s huge ice cap for the first time on record. Temperatures are normally well below freezing on the 10,551 ft peak, and the precipitation is a stark sign of the climate crisis.

Scientists at the US National Science Foundation’s summit station saw rain falling throughout 14 August but had no gauges to measure the fall because the precipitation was so unexpected. Across Greenland, an estimated seven billion tons of water was released from the clouds.

The rain fell during an exceptionally hot three days in Greenland when temperatures were 18 C higher than average in places. As a result, melting was seen in most of Greenland, across an area about four times the size of the UK.

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it was “unequivocal” that carbon emissions from human activities were heating the planet and causing impacts such as melting ice and rising sea level.

In May, researchers reported that a significant part of the Greenland ice sheet was nearing a tipping point, after which accelerated melting would become inevitable even if global heating was halted.

Ted Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, which reported the summit rain, told CNN: “What is going on is not simply a warm decade or two in a wandering climate pattern. This is unprecedented. We are crossing thresholds not seen in millennia, and frankly this is not going to change until we adjust what we’re doing to the air.”

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