The Greenland ice sheet and glaciers began melting between 10,000 and 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. At the time, much of the northern hemisphere, including Greenland was locked under as much as a mile of ice, such as still exists in Antarctica.
However, the melting hasn’t always been at the same speed. For instance, at one time there was a flourishing colony of Vikings on Greenland because the temperatures were warmer and milder than they are today. They died out during the time known as the “little ice age”, a couple of hundred years ago, when temperatures all over the globe fell tremendously. When neither crops nor livestock could survive, the people couldn’t survive either.
It is important to this discussion to consider what caused the little ice age. Frankly, scientists aren’t certain. It isn’t known how temperature fluctuations on a global scale occur or what long-range cycles there may be. However, almost exactly coinciding with this time, the sun suddenly stopped displaying sunspots, which normally go from maximums to minimums on about an 11-year cycle. For over 70 years, there were virtually no sunspots. The little ice age also lasted about 70 years, over about the same period. Coincidence?
No other connection has yet been found to anything explain it.
Interestingly, the sun is currently in a phase of above normal numbers of sunspots. It is reasonable to assume that if a lack of them caused extremely cold global temperatures, a larger number would mean higher temperatures. This is entirely hypothetical, as is nearly everything regarding planetary warming or cooling, but it at least makes sense.
Core samples have also shown that our current global temperatures are not as great as they were 1500 years ago, and not close to what they were 2000 years ago. However, solar cycles had not begun to be studied at that time, so again we don’t know if there were more or fewer sunspots. We also don’t have any idea how sunspots, or lack of them, could change global temperatures. We just don’t have the knowledge, and we lack a lot of data.
This all means that why the ice is melting so fast can be guessed at, but we don’t know for sure. We can be certain that it has little to do with the activities of man, but the actual mechanism isn’t currently within our grasp of understanding. We do know it is a natural process, as nearly all of the 4.5 billion years the earth has been around, there have been no ice caps, glaciers or sheets. However, we don’t know what is driving the natural processes.
This makes the question of stopping it especially problematic. There are several possible answers, but none of them except one are realistic or obtainable, and the one isn’t popular currently.
1. We could control the output of the sun. The problem is that we are not nearly to the point where we can do this, and since we don’t know exactly how sun spots have affected the earth’s climate, even if we could produce them, we wouldn’t know what will really happen if we did.
2. We could cause a nuclear winter. Since most heat would be reflected back out to space, the Greenland Glaciers would again grow as global temperatures fell. Since this would also irradiate the entire globe, though, there would be nothing living on the planet to observe the glacier growth. This is somewhat like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer.
3. We could do nothing at all and just let the earth take care of it as it has been for four and a half billion years. Man is taught time and time again by the planet that he isn’t as smart as he thinks he is and doesn’t have as much power he thinks he does. It is arrogant for him to think he can stop natural processes that have been occurring for 1000 times longer than he has been on Earth, in any form.
Each person can decide for himself or herself what needs to be done, or not done. It would be thought though that the answer shouldn’t be all that difficult to come up with, if man can only be a little less arrogant and self-important.