Glacier slides twice as fast towards the sea

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 10 May 2010

A glacier in Greenland slides up to 220 percent faster towards the sea in summer than in winter and global warming could mean a wider acceleration that would raise sea levels, according to a study published on Sunday.

An iceberg carved from a glacier floats in the Jacobshavn fjord in south-west Greenland- Reuters

A group of experts led by Ian Bartholomew at Edinburgh University in Scotland said the variability was much stronger than earlier observations of glacier movement in Greenland.

The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, is a new piece of a puzzle to understand the world’s second biggest ice sheet behind Antarctica. Greenland has enough ice to raise world sea levels by about seven metres if it all melted.

The study said GPS satellite measurements of the glacier in south-west Greenland, up to 35km inland and at altitudes of up to 1 095m, showed that the ice in some places slid at 300m per year at peak summer rates.

“Our measurements reveal substantial increases in ice velocity during summer, up to 220 percent above winter background values,” it said.

The scientists said that the summer slide might be linked to melt water seeping under the ice. It did not speculate if the change in speed between summer and winter was part of natural shifts or was influenced by a changing climate.

But they wrote: “In a warming climate, with longer and more intense summer melt seasons, we would expect that water will reach the bed farther inland and a larger portion of the ice sheet will experience summer velocity changes.”

The United Nations panel of climate experts said in 2007 that global warming was unequivocal and that it was more than 90 percent certain that most warming in the past half century was caused by human activities led by the burning of fossil fuels.

The UN panel has come under fire this year after officials said its latest report in 2007 exaggerated the pace of melt of Himalayan glaciers by saying they might all disappear by 2035.

More than 250 members of the US National Academy of Sciences on Thursday defended climate change research against “political assaults”, and said that any delay in tackling global warming heightens the risk of a planet-wide catastrophe.


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