Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

What Is Really Happening To Greenland Icecap?

03.11.2008
The Greenland ice cap has been a focal point of recent climate change research because it is much more exposed to immediate global warming than the larger Antarctic ice sheet.

Yet while the southern Greenland ice cap has been melting, it is still not clear how much this is contributing to rising sea levels, and much further research is needed. A framework for such research was defined at a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF).

"The main objectives were to establish current understanding, prioritise research needs, and develop proposals," said one of the ESF workshop's convenors, Professor Tavi Murray from the Glaciology Group at Swansea University in the UK. "I believe we did the first two very well and laid the ground for developing research proposals."

While recent observations indicate that the Greenland ice cap is melting fast, it is uncertain how much this is contributing to sea levels, as co-convenor Carl Bøggild, from UNIS in Svalbard explained. "A major challenge is to determine what fraction of melt water really runs off, because in many places the melt water will just drain into the cold snow and refreeze," said Bøggild.

One way to determine how much water is running off is to measure not just the area of the Greenland ice cap but also its thickness, but this is much more difficult. Alternatively, the run off process can be tracked both on the ground and by satellite, preferably integrating the two, as was discussed at the workshop. The need to establish a database of ground based observations, including run off, as well as the ongoing calving of ice bergs from the ice cap and occasional events such as earthquakes beneath the ice was discussed.

Perhaps the greatest immediate challenge identified at the workshop though lies in reducing the high levels of uncertainty over the current and future behaviour of the Greenland ice cap, and reconciling the many conflicting observations and predictions. In the case of the meltwater, estimates of the annual total vary by a factor of five from 50 gigatons (GT) to around 250 GT, and this level of uncertainty makes future predictions almost meaningless.

"Laser satellites can detect elevation changes within 10 cm accuracy - but do not consider compaction of the snow," said Murray. "Other satellites using radio waves have a problem with penetration of the signal into the snow. And, yet another method from satellites, measuring the 'weight' of the ice sheet covers too large areas - so you also detect weight changes outside the ice sheet." But at least these multiple sources of data have the potential of being combined to yield more accurate estimates.

Not surprisingly, given these uncertainties, it is unclear even what the immediate future holds for the Greenland ice cap. As Murray noted, recent high levels of thinning in the south and around the edges have taken climatologists by surprise, but there is no guarantee it will continue. "There is much uncertainty presently, because observations of thinning have come as a surprise," said Murray. "We can basically say that three scenarios are possible regarding the enhanced thinning which has been observed recently. One is that it will keep escalating. Secondly it may remain constant even though the climate gets warmer, and thirdly the enhanced rate of thinning may stop altogether, with future thinning being purely the result of melting."

It is not clear yet which of these scenarios will transpire, but Murray and Bøggild are convinced that the ESF workshop has prepared the ground for substantial progress, by bringing together the relevant diverse skills in glaciology, climatology, geology, modelling and satellite imaging. The workshop, Sea-Level Rise From The Greenland Ice Sheet, was held in Mallorca, Spain in May 2008.

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esf.org
http://www.esf.org/activities/exploratory-workshops/workshops-list/workshops-detail.html?ew=6495

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future
27.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Penn researchers quantify the changes that lightning inspires in rock
27.04.2017 | University of Pennsylvania

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>