Temperatures over Greenland may plunge 10 °C in the next century. Credit: © GettyImages

Within the next 100 years global warming may melt much of the ice sheet over Greenland, producing some striking regional climate changes, a new model suggests. But the meltwater may eventually insulate the island from further climate change.

The model predicts that Greenland could be around 4 °C warmer by 2080. The resulting melting could raise sea level by 5 centimetres. Being fresh, the meltwater would float in a pool on the surface of the North Atlantic's salty water.

After 2080, however, the model suggests that this freshwater pool might halt the warming effect over Greenland, by blocking the Gulf Stream of warmer water that flows towards the North Atlantic.

If this were to happen, northern Europe might cool by up to 3 °C, and northern Canada by up to 5 °C. At the same time, temperatures over Greenland may plunge 10 °C. "Greenhouse warming may stop the Greenland Ice Sheet from melting in the end," says Philippe Huybrechts of the Free University of Brussels.

Huybrechts created the computer model with colleagues in Belgium and Germany, and presented it at last week's joint meeting of the European Geophysical Society, the American Geophysical Union and the European Union of Geosciences in Nice, France.

"About one-third less water would be transferred by the Gulf Stream," Huybrechts explains. He admits, however, that working out whether or not the Greenland Ice Sheet will build itself back up again when temperatures nosedive once more will require a new model and months more expensive computer time.

Rex Dalton is the West Coast correspondent of the journal Nature