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These undated handout images provided by NASA shows the extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on July 8, left, and July 12, right. Measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12.
In this July 19, 2011 file photo, a large melt pool forms in the Ilulissat ice fjord below the Jakobshavn Glacier, at the fringe of the vast Greenland ice sheet.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly all of Greenland's massive ice sheet suddenly started melting a bit this month, a freak event that surprised scientists.
Even Greenland's coldest and highest place, Summit station, showed melting. Ice core records show that last happened in 1889 and occurs about once every 150 years.
Three satellites show what NASA calls unprecedented melting of the ice sheet that blankets the island, starting on July 8 and lasting four days. Most of the thick ice remains. While some ice usually melts during the summer, what was unusual was that the melting happened in a flash and over a widespread area.
"You literally had this wave of warm air wash over the Greenland ice sheet and melt it," NASA ice scientist Tom Wagner said Tuesday.
The ice melt area went from 40 percent of the ice sheet to 97 percent in four days, according to NASA. Until now, the most extensive melt seen by satellites in the past three decades was about 55 percent