In Icy Greenland, Area Covered by Vegetation Has More Than Doubled in Size

Lille Malene near Nuuk, Greenland.

Lille Malene near Nuuk, Greenland. Amanderson2 via Flickr

In Greenland, where temperatures are rising twice as fast as across the rest of the world, the icy, rocky landscape is turning increasingly green, a new study finds.

An analysis of satellite records shows that, over the last three decades, Greenland has lost 11,000 square miles of ice, an area roughly the size of Massachusetts. As melting gains pace, ice is increasingly giving way to tundra and shrubland. “At the same time, water released from the melting ice is moving sediment and silt, and that eventually forms wetlands and fenlands,” said Jonathan Carrivick, a scientist at the University of Leeds and coauthor of the study.

Changes in Greenland's land cover.

Changes in Greenland's land cover. University of Leeds

From the late 1980s to the late 2010s, the research found, the parts of Greenland covered by vegetation more than doubled in size, growing by roughly 33,000 square miles, an area the size of Maine. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The changes in Greenland’s landscape are accelerating climate change, researchers said. Land blanketed by dark green vegetation absorbs more energy from the sun than areas covered in ice, while rapidly expanding wetlands are a significant source of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas.


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