Greenland’s Melting Ice Could Be Triggering Mountain Collapses

MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images
MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images

Melting Arctic ice isn't just bad news for sea levels. In Greenland, ice that previously held mountains together is melting, shaking loose unstable rock, according to New Scientist. That triggers huge landslides, which in turn leads to deadly tsunamis.

In June, 39 people were evacuated and several were killed after a tsunami flooded the remote island of Nuugaatsiaq, Greenland. Initially, authorities thought the tsunami was the result of a 4.1 earthquake off the coast. But it turned out that it wasn't an earthquake at all. The tsunami was triggered by part of a mountain collapsing, creating a giant landslide of seismic proportions that fell into the sea.

As the world gets warmer, we may have to deal with more incidents like these. Where previously ice might have been able to hold together the unstable rock of a mountain, if that ice melts, there's nothing to keep that rock from coming down. As a glaciologist told New Scientist, the melting and freezing cycles of ice in Greenland have created a dire situation.

Greenland and other fjord-dominated landscapes are at high risk for these sorts of disasters as ice melts. The sharp, steep cliffs of fjords make it easy for unstable rocks to go tumbling into deep water, causing dangerously strong waves. These tsunamis can reach speeds of more than 500 miles per hour. The deeper the water that the mountain collapses into, the stronger the tsunami, which means more bad news from rising sea levels.

[h/t New Scientist]

Storm Leaves Homes Along Lake Erie Covered in Up To Three Feet of Ice

Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
John Normile/Getty Images

This past weekend, lakeside residents of Hamburg, New York, awoke to find their neighborhood transformed into a full-scale replica of Frozen’s ice-covered kingdom, Arendelle.

According to CNN, gale force winds produced giant waves that sprayed the houses along Lake Erie with sheets of water for two days straight, covering them in layers of ice up to three feet thick.

“It looks fake, it looks surreal,” Hamburg resident Ed Mis told CNN. “It’s dark on the inside of my house. It can be a little eerie, a little frightening.”

While the homeowners are anxious for the ice to melt, they’re also concerned about what could happen when it does.

“We’re worried about the integrity, of structure failure when it starts to melt, because of the weight on the roof,” Mis said.

He added that this is the worst ice coating he’s seen since he moved to the area eight years ago—but it’s not because they’ve had a particularly harsh winter. In fact, just the opposite is true. According to The Detroit News, warm winter temperatures have caused ice cover on the Great Lakes to drop from 67 percent in 2019 to less than 20 percent this year.

“Lake Erie typically has significant ice cover by this time of the year, and that protects the shoreline from these battering storms,” The Weather Channel’s winter weather expert Tom Niziol explained in a video.

The phenomenon has created another unforeseen issue for Hamburg’s coast, too: Tourism. The local police department posted a message on Facebook on Sunday, March 1, asking people to keep off both the “extremely unsafe and unstable” ice and people's private property.

[h/t CNN]

What is Lake-Effect Snow?

Tainar/iStock via Getty Images
Tainar/iStock via Getty Images

As you probably guessed, you need a lake to experience lake-effect snow. The primary factor in creating lake-effect snow is a temperature difference between the lake and the air above it. Because water has a high specific heat, it warms and cools much more slowly than the air around it. All summer, the sun heats the lake, which stays warm deep into autumn. When air temperatures dip, we get the necessary temperature difference for lake-effect snow.

As the cool air passes over the lake, moisture from the water evaporates and the air directly above the surface heats up. This warm, wet air rises and condenses, quickly forming heavy clouds. The rate of change in temperature as you move up through the air is known as the "lapse rate"; the greater the lapse rate, the more unstable a system is—and the more prone it is to create weather events.

Encountering the shore only exacerbates the situation. Increased friction causes the wind to slow down and clouds to "pile up" while hills and variable topography push air up even more dramatically, causing more cooling and more condensation.

The other major factors that determine the particulars of a lake-effect snowstorm are the orientation of the wind and the specific lake. Winds blowing along the length of a lake create greater "fetch," the area of water over which the wind blows, and thus more extreme storms like the one currently pummeling the Buffalo area. The constraints of the lake itself create stark boundaries between heavy snow and just a few flurries and literal walls of snow that advance onto the shore. The southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes are considered "snow belts" because, with winds prevailing from the northwest, these areas tend to get hit the hardest.

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