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Sudden Greenland ice sheet melt baffles scientists (+video)

Satellite images have shown melting over 97 percent of the surface of Greenland's ice sheet in just four days, an event thought to occur every 150 years on average.

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Signs of ice melt were even found around Summit Station in central Greenland, which at 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) above sea level is near to the highest point of the ice sheet.

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"Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average," said study researcher Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time," Koenig said in a statement.

The melting of such a huge ice sheet — spanning an area of 656,000 square miles (1.7 million square kilometers) — is important for various reasons, particularly its potential effect on sea levels. If melted completely, the Greenland ice sheet could contribute 23 feet (7 meters) to global sea-level rise, according to a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body charged with assessing climate change.

Whether or not this recent massive melt will affect the overall ice loss this summer, and as such bump up sea level, is still an open question.

Scientists say that man-made global warming, a result of greenhouse gas emissions, is contributing to Greenland ice melt. In fact, past research has suggested that the Greenland ice sheet will vanish in 2,000 years under business-as-usual carbon emissions. If humans managed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the disappearance would take 50,000 years.

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