Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet melting, rate unknown

18.02.2009
The Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are melting, but the amounts that will melt and the time it will take are still unknown, according to Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geosciences, Penn State.

In the past, the Greenland ice sheet has grown when its surroundings cooled, shrunk when its surroundings warmed and even disappeared completely when the temperatures became warm enough. If the ice sheet on Greenland melts, sea level will rise about 23 feet, which will inundate portions of nearly all continental shores. However, Antarctica, containing much more water, could add up to another 190 feet to sea level.

"We do not think that we will lose all, or even most, of Antarctica's ice sheet," said Alley. "But important losses may have already started and could raise sea level as much or more than melting of Greenland's ice over hundreds or thousands of years," Alley told attendees today (Feb 16) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Warming is expected to cause more precipitation on Greenland and Antarctica, adding snow. Previously, many scientists suggested that this would offset increasing melting. However, recent studies show that the ice sheets on both Greenland and in Antarctica are melting faster than the snow is replacing the mass.

A number of things can contribute to the increased rate of melting in Greenland and Antarctica. Large lakes of water on the ice in Greenland pose a problem. This water, by wedging open a crack or crevasse in the ice, quickly flows through to the bottom, melting the bottom of the ice sheet and causing it to move more rapidly toward the ocean. Observers have seen lakes on the Greenland ice sheet drain at the speed of Niagara Falls.

All ice sheets spread due to their large mass, but friction from the rocks beneath slows the ice's motion. Water beneath the ice allows the ice to move more rapidly.

"Right now, the center of the Greenland ice sheet is frozen to the rocks," says Alley. "If the melt water moves inland as the world warms and gets to the bottom, it will thaw the bottom and unstick the ice from the rocks."

Another contributor to the melting ice sheets is the warming of the ocean. When ice shelves -- ice still connected to the ice sheet but floating over water -- melt, they also cause the ice sheet to flow faster. In Greenland, the Jakobshavn ice shelf has retreated more than 5 miles since 1992. Rocks and cliffs on the sides of fiords or inlets slow the seaward movement of the ice shelves. If these shelves break up and melt, the ice streams behind them move more rapidly.

Ice shelf failures have also occurred on Antarctica where, for example, most of the Larsen B ice shelf disintegrated in March of 2002 and increased the rate of ice stream flow eight times.

"Water temperature is more important than air temperature in melting the ice shelves," says Alley. "However, both contribute."

Warmer oceans, caused by general global warming or local events can trigger more breakups of ice shelves and faster flow of ice streams in Antarctica. In Greenland, sustained increase in temperatures of only a few degrees will remove the ice.

Alley believes he knows the direction to go to gain a better understanding of the ice sheets, how they work and the effect they have on climate change. Although those who study ice sheets have long modeled ice sheet behavior, simulations of the whole earth system typically have not included ice sheets along with the atmosphere, oceans and clouds, in their models. Past atmospheric modelers usually treated the ice sheets simply as white mountains.

"They are not white mountains and they need to be modeled," said Alley. "We need to have them in the models to figure out how the system works."

Alley notes that a collaboration of government and academic scientists created the atmospheric and ocean models, but collaborations to model the ice are only just being developed.

A'ndrea Elyse Messer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://ww.psu.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht A promising target in the quest for a 1-million-year-old Antarctic ice core
24.05.2018 | University of Washington

nachricht Tropical Peat Swamps: Restoration of Endangered Carbon Reservoirs
24.05.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>