Greenland’s Bedrock Could Predict Our Climate Future

Helicopter over Greenland

There is no shortage of prognostications about what climate change will do to our planet. In reality, there are few ways to tell for sure; human beings have never been around for this kind of world-shifting event before. But an international team of researchers led by University of Copenhagen Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen may have found a way to predict what will happen if Greenland’s ice sheets melt.

Researchers involved in the project spent the past five years drilling through 1.6 miles of Greenland’s ice before reaching bedrock this week. Now that the bedrock has been found, scientists can figure out just how much Greenland’s ice sheet melted during the last major warming period–the Eemian Period, which occurred about 120,000 years ago–when temperatures averaged up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they are today.

A number of techniques will help the researchers make predictions: Examination of isotope variations, greenhouse gas bubbles trapped in ice, crystal structures of ice, the bore hole temperature, and biological material found near the bedrock will all contribute, according to the AFP. What they find will determine whether Greenland’s ice sheets were responsible for the Eemian Period’s sea level rise.

The upcoming warming period will probably resemble the Eemian Period. Even taking into account voluntary pledges made at last year’s worldwide Copenhagen climate summit, scientists estimate that temperatures could rise up to 7.2 degrees in the coming years. So the information gathered by Greenland researchers could potentially tell us whether coastal residents should start heading for the hills if Greenland’s ice block starts to melt–or if they can stay put.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.