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Global climate scientists visit Buffalo to tackle Greenland melting

The Greenland ice sheet is melting and about four dozen of the world’s leading scientists came to Buffalo this week to figure out its stability.

Climatologists, geologists, glaciologists and other Greenland experts sequestered themselves on the second-floor of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site for a two-day workshop held by the University at Buffalo and the National Science Foundation.

They mulled the latest scientific data, challenged their hypotheses and traded ideas trying to reach a consensus about the history of Greenland’s ice sheet and its sensitivity to environmental change in an effort to hone in on key areas where more research is needed.

“These are the world’s experts on Greenland,” said Jason Briner, a University at Buffalo geologist and faculty expert on climate change.

They’re trying to determine how fast the Greenland ice sheet could melt. And, the scientists debated which periods in Earth's history should be used for ice sheet modeling in future research.

Why does it matter?

As one of the globe’s two major ice sheets — the other is Antarctica — what happens in Greenland has broad implications, like a 24-foot rise in sea levels across the globe.

“The Greenland ice sheet is back on the list of most vulnerable ice sheets,” said Joerg Schaefer, a research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

Don Paul: Greenland's meltdown within a meltdown

Schaefer and Briner coauthored groundbreaking research published last December in the Nature science journal that found Greenland was ice-free a lot more recently than scientists initially thought. That also meant Greenland’s ice, which covers nearly 80 percent of its land mass and is more than a mile thick in places, could also be more vulnerable than initially thought.

“What we found was, as a scientist, a dream,” Schaefer said. “But, as a citizen of the planet? A nightmare.”

Schaefer's presentation led the workshop, which also included keynote presentations from renowned experts like the University of Copenhagen’s Dorthe Dahl-Jensen.

“She’s like the ice-coring-on-the-planet queen right now,” Briner said.

Other prominent experts at the Buffalo workshop included Robin Bell, the president of the American Geophysical Union; Penn State University geologist Richard Alley and others from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Mapping Greenland's ice and measuring current flows and dynamics also came up during Tuesday's discussion. Generally, Greenland’s ice provides more questions than answers, but expert-laden workshops like the one in Buffalo can play a vital role in solving some of those questions, Briner said.

“We’re learning more and more every day,” Briner said.

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