The two biggest melts for Greenland were in 1889 and 2012. We didn’t know why the entire surface of Greenland turned to slush in a 96 hour period back when it happened, but now we know it was warm, ash laden air and that a similar event happened in 1889. This is double the normal maximum summer melt area.
Greenland melting is an issue on a scale of centuries to maybe a whole millennium, but there are other icy places that are much closer to fires. The Himalayas, which translates into The Abode of Snow, are commonly called Asia’s water tower. I have already mentioned the Kashmir Conflict, which affects the headwater’s of the Indus river valley at the far western end of the range. The Ganges and the Brahmaputra also originate in the Himalayas and well over a billion people depend on the mountain glaciers as a buffer for precipitation.
We already know that Pakistan suffered disastrous floods in 2010, this was most recently mentioned in Global Wildfire Patterns, and a large area of Russia burned almost simultaneously. We also know that India is moving to stabilize Afghanistan using Russia as a proxy, which I covered in Afghanistan’s New Best Friends.
A global worst case scenario would involve another kind of fire – a ‘limited’ nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. A regional nuclear war would dramatically affect climate. Aerosols from fires would cause a nuclear winter, the ozone layer would be wiped out for a period of time, resulting in a spike in skin cancer, and as the short term winter abated the soot would fall, darkening and melting ice everywhere.
The IPCC overestimated glacial ice cover in the Himalayas by a factor of eight(!), noting 500,000 square kilometers when only 60,000 square kilometers actually exist. If natural regional fires like the ones that affected Russia in 2010 deposit ash in the Himalayas one year, we could see that other type of fire the next if the pressure on India and Pakistan over Kashmir crosses some unknowable threshold.
Even without a black swan geopolitical event like that the trend is clear. Lands that are hotter and drier burn more often and with greater intensity. Ice with more soot on it melts more quickly. The 2012 wildfire soot driven melt in Greenland is historically a hundred year event based on the two that have been found via ice core. Global Wildfire Patterns are changing. The details of the 2012 Greenland melt have just become available. I do not know if anyone has even tried to factor this into overall models.
We didn’t think we would have a summer ice free Arctic until 2100, but ice extent has declined 12% per decade since we began monitoring. What cover we do have is just one or two years old, thin, fragile, and liable to break down catastrophically. That ice free summer might happen in this decade and a glacier free Himalayas can’t be all that far behind. What comes after that? You might as well let your imagination run wild, because I don’t think we can predict …