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11 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland — in just one day

Arctic temps reach new highs
Greenland experiences severe ice melting 05:42

Europe's historic heat wave has moved to Greenland, melting its ice sheets at dramatic rates. Eleven billion tons of ice melted across the country on Wednesday alone — its biggest melt this season. 

While Greenland's ice sheets usually melt during the summer, record temperatures have meant a longer and more dramatic melt season. As sea levels rise globally, so do the likelihood of extreme weather events and coastal flooding

Roughly 197 billion tons of ice from Greenland melted into the Atlantic Ocean in July, Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist with the Danish Meteorological Institute, told CBS News Friday. That's about 36 percent more than scientists expect in an average year. 

Mottram said the recent heat waves have escalated this year's loss of ice. "The heat wave has certainly contributed to the very high numbers we saw yesterday and the day before," she said.

"The melt area has also been a lot bigger when the warm air mass from Europe arrived, but it has been a long period of warm and dry weather since May and following a dry winter so it's a little extra push rather than the main cause of the very high ice loss we've observed," she added.  

According to data from the Polar Portal, nearly 60% of the ice sheet experienced at least 1 millimeter of melt at the surface Wednesday. 

There is still one month left in the melt season, and the warm air mass is still lingering over much of Greenland, Mottram said. According to Mottram, residents of Ilulissat have been pictured wearing shorts in recent weeks. "This is very unusual!" She said. 

Last week, Europe experienced a life-threatening heat wave, with France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain all hitting record temperatures: 100 degrees Fahrenheit in London, 109 in Paris. As the heat wave moved on to the Arctic and Greenland, Arctic sea ice is reaching new record low levels. 

July may have been the hottest month in recorded history, according to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. "We have always lived through hot summers. But this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfather's summer," he said Thursday.

82% of Greenland's surface is covered in ice. The country is home to the second biggest ice sheet in the world, next to the Antarctic. These two ice masses combined hold enough frozen water to raise global mean sea level by 65 meters if they were to suddenly melt.

Climate Watch: Arctic to be hit by record-breaking heat wave from Europe 06:58
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