The ice sheet covering Greenland is four times bigger than California — and holds enough water to raise global sea-level more than twenty feet if most of it were to melt. Today, sea levels are rising and the melting of Greenland is a major contributor. Understanding how fast this melting might proceed is a pressing question for policymakers and coastal communities.
To make predictions about the future of the ice sheet, scientists have tried to understand its past, hoping to glean what the ice was doing millions of years ago when the Earth was three or more degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is now. But our understanding of the ice sheet’s complex behavior before about 125,000 years ago has been fragmentary at best.
Now, two first-of-their-kind studies provide new insight into the deep history of the Greenland Ice Sheet, looking back millions of years farther than previous techniques allowed. However, the two studies present some strongly contrasting evidence about how Greenland’s ice sheet may have responded to past climate change–bringing new urgency to the need to understand if and how the giant ice sheet might dramatically accelerate its melt-off in the near future.