Rapid melting is transforming coastal Greenland and potentially changing the human and expensive ecosystems along the country’s coast.
New research published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface on 27 October finds that the ice tree in Greenland has changed the way glaciers float and where they are dumped into the sea. These changes may affect the ice loss from Greenland in the future, the researchers wrote.
Recent studies have shown that Greenland loses 500 gigatons of ice each year, more than can be replenished with new snowfall. Annual ice loss is 1
The new study, led by National Snow and Ice Data Center researcher Twila Moon, breaks down the changes in more detail.
Moon and her colleagues combined two types of data from satellite images: how fast the ice sheet moves, and where glaciers end on their way downhill. When a glacier retreats, its terminus does not reach as far down the valley as it once did.
They first found that glacier retreat is now the norm in Greenland. 89 percent of the glaciers had retreated significantly within the last decade, the researchers wrote in their paper. Hardly anyone had moved on.
This reshaping of glaciers translated into a series of changes in the glacier movement. Some glaciers came faster and ran faster toward the ocean, the researchers found; others flow more slowly. And for several years to a decade, a single glacier could do both depending on the topography around it.
Glaciers are ice rivers, so their flow is determined in part not only by how fast they melt, but by what is beneath them.
For example, the Kjer and Hayes glaciers in northwestern Greenland sprang up at their primary outlets to the ocean from the 1990s to 2010, but other ice outlets to the nearby sea slowed. In one case, the southern part of one of these outlets went faster and then sank again.
The researchers saw signs of ice channel narrowing, diversion of meltwater trails and even the slowing down of new ice, so glaciers stranded in place, more like lakes than rivers.
All this local variation can be very important in predicting how quickly Greenland’s ice will disappear in the future. The changes are also likely to affect how and where nutrients enter the water, where there are open fjords versus ice, and where fresh water is available.
“As the Arctic Ocean and atmosphere warm up, we can clearly see the ice flow in the ocean accelerating and the ice edge retreating,” co-author Alex Gardner, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.
“When we take a closer look, however, we can see the complexity of how individual glaciers react due to differences in the properties of seawater reaching the glacier front, the bedrock and until it lies below, and in how meltwater flow routed below. Understanding the complexity of The individual glacier response is crucial to improving the projections of ice cover change and the associated rise in sea levels coming to our shores. “
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