The Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest land ice contributor to sea level rise. This will continue in the future but at an uncertain rate and observational estimates are limited to the last few decades. Understanding the long-term glacier response to external forcing is key to improving projections. Here we use historical photographs to calculate ice loss from 1880–2012 for Jakobshavn, Helheim, and Kangerlussuaq glacier. We estimate ice loss corresponding to a sea level rise of 8.1 ± 1.1 millimetres from these three glaciers. Projections of mass loss for these glaciers, using the worst-case scenario, Representative Concentration Pathways 8.5, suggest a sea level contribution of 9.1–14.9 mm by 2100. RCP8.5 implies an additional global temperature increase of 3.7 °C by 2100, approximately four times larger than that which has taken place since 1880. We infer that projections forced by RCP8.5 underestimate glacier mass loss which could exceed this worst-case scenario.
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