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July 26, 2012
Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Unprecedented
    by Robert Kropp

NASA satellite measurements confirm that 97% of Greenland's ice sheet has melted this summer, far more than ever before recorded.

Climate scientists are wary of attributing singular weather events to the effects of climate change. So even when NASA satellite photographs depict an "unprecedented" melting of Greenland's ice sheet—an estimated 97% of the ice sheet surface had thawed by mid-July, compared to an average of about half—some scientists seek to attribute the phenomenon, at least to an extent, to other causes.

Ice core analyses of the area around Summit Station in central Greenland, located near the highest point of the ice sheet, indicate that pronounced melting has occurred there as well, for the first time since 1889. "Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time," Lora Koenig, a glaciologist, explained.

"But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome," she continued.

Additional data compiled by NASA suggest that the time for worry may be upon us. Between 2003 and 2010, the data reveal, the average ice mass in Greenland declined by more that a trillion tons.

And while the mid-summer ice melt is caused by the predictable arrival of a heat dome over Greenland, "Each successive ridge has been stronger than the previous one," said Thomas Mote, a climatologist.

"What's alarming to scientists is that we know the Arctic ice is a key feedback, and the warming in the Arctic has been slightly faster than was predicted 10 or 20 years ago,'' Karl Braganza of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology told the Sydney Morning Herald. "This year, we measured CO2 emissions in the Arctic at above 400 parts per million for the first time. That's the first time it's been at that level in 3 million years."

If climate scientists are reluctant to go out on a limb and attribute the melting ice sheet to climate change, Bill McKibben of has no such qualms. Writi ng in Rolling Stone, McKibben reported that temperatures for May in the northern hemisphere were the highest on record. May, McKibben wrote, was "the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."

"Not that our leaders seemed to notice," McKibben continued, referring to the lack of progress at last month's Rio+20 conference, described by George Monbiot as "perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war."

Thus the challenge of addressing climate falls, to a disproportionate degree, to other actors, including corporations and the investors that engage with them. Yet according to the recently published Evolutions in Sustainable Investing: Strategies, Funds and Thought Leadership, even sustainable investors have been slow to adopt what Nick Robins of the Climate Change Center of Excellence at HSBC described as "forward-looking, prospective methodology which we argue will systematically add value over time."


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