"Besides a peak that happened in mid-May over the south part of Greenland, it doesn't look like there has been considerable melting so far," Tedesco told Live Science. "And, of course, there was a lot of melting in May in 2012 and only a little melting in 2013."
Widespread early melting can jump-start a big summer thaw, because melting kicks off an albedo feedback mechanism, Tedesco said. Albedo measures how much of the sun's energy is reflected. Fresh snow is more reflective than old ice and water. Melting sets up a feedback loop: When the young snow melts and exposes older ice, the darker ice absorbs more sunlight (has a lower albedo), which leads to more melting. (Melting in the snowpack also lowers its reflectivity.)
Other factors can also lower albedo, such as soot from pollution and forest fires. This effect could have contributed to the high-elevation melt in 2012, a recent study suggested. And forest fires are already raging in California, Alaska and Siberia, upwind of the powerful atmospheric jets that travel eastward to Greenland.
But summer snowfall can bury soot, muting its sunlight-absorbing power, Tedesco said.
"I would love a way to anticipate what's going to happen, but all of these factors have a really complicated effect," Tedesco said.
One new way to monitor the melt will be through the NSIDC, which is planning to build a daily Greenland melt tracking website, the agency said May 26.
The Danish Arctic research institutions are also providing daily updates on Greenland's surface melting.
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