Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Melting and refreezing of deep Greenland ice speeds flow to sea, study says

16.06.2014

Findings may shift understanding of ice sheet behavior

Beneath the barren whiteness of Greenland, a mysterious world has popped into view. Using ice-penetrating radar, researchers have discovered ragged blocks of ice as tall as city skyscrapers and as wide as the island of Manhattan at the very bottom of the ice sheet, apparently formed as water beneath the ice refreezes and warps the surrounding ice upwards.


Melting and refreezing at the bottom of ice sheets warps the layer-cake structure above, as seen in this radar image from Greenland.

Credit: Mike Wolovick

The newly revealed forms may help scientists understand more about how ice sheets behave and how they will respond to a warming climate. The results are published in the latest issue of Nature Geoscience.

"We see more of these features where the ice sheet starts to go fast," said the study's lead author, Robin Bell, a geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "We think the refreezing process uplifts, distorts and warms the ice above, making it softer and easier to flow."

The structures cover about a tenth of northern Greenland, the researchers estimate, becoming bigger and more common as the ice sheet narrows into ice streams, or glaciers, headed for the sea. As meltwater at the bottom refreezes over hundreds to thousands of years, the researchers believe it radiates heat into the surrounding ice sheet, making it pick up its pace as the ice becomes softer and flows more easily.

Since the 1970s, and as recently as 1998, researchers flying over the region mistook radar images of these structures for hills. Newer instruments flown during NASA's IceBridge campaign to map ice loss at both poles found the hills to be made of ice instead of rock. Bell, who had discovered similar ice features at the base of the East Antarctic ice sheet, recognized them immediately.

While mapping Antarctica's ice-covered Gamburtsev Mountains in 2008 and 2009, Bell and colleagues discovered extensive melting and refreezing along ridges and steep valley walls of the range. Though researchers had long known that pressure and friction can melt the bottom of ice sheets, no one knew that refreezing water could deform the layer-cake structure above. In a 2011 study in Science, Bell and colleagues proposed that ice sheets can grow from the bottom up, not just from the top-down accumulation of falling snow.

The current study builds on the findings from Antarctica by linking the bottom features to faster ice sheet flow. The researchers looked at Petermann Glacier in the north of Greenland, which made headlines in 2010 when a 100-square mile chunk of ice slipped into the sea. They discovered that Petermann Glacier is sweeping a dozen large features with it toward the coast as it funnels off the ice sheet; one feature sits where satellite data has shown part of the glacier racing twice as fast as nearby ice. The researchers suggest that the refreeze process is influencing the glacier's advance hundreds of miles from where Petermann floats onto the sea.

"Overall, these observations suggest that basal freeze-on is a key control on the large-scale flow of Petermann Glacier, a possibility that has not been explored previously," writes University of Texas researcher Joseph MacGregor in the same issue of Nature Geoscience.

Greenland's glaciers appear to be moving more rapidly toward the sea as climate warms but it remains unclear how the refreeze process will influence this trend, the researchers said.

They expected to find bottom features in the ice sheet's interior, as they did in Antarctica, but did not expect to see features at the edges, where lakes form and rivers flow over the surface, they said. Water from those lakes and rivers appears to fall through crevasses and other holes in the ice to reach the base of the ice sheet, where some of it apparently refreezes. Their discovery indicates that refreezing and deformation at the base of the ice sheet may be far more widespread than previously thought. Bell and her colleagues believe that similar features may come to light as other parts of Greenland and Antarctica are studied in closer detail.

Flying over northern Greenland during the 2011 Ice Bridge season, Kirsty Tinto, a geophysicist at Lamont-Doherty, sat up straight when the radar images began to reveal a deformed layer-cake structure. "When you're flying over this flat, white landscape people almost fall asleep it's so boring—layer cake, layer cake, layer cake," said Tinto, a study coauthor. "But then suddenly these things appear on the screen. It's very exciting. You get a sense of these invisible processes happening underneath."

###

The study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and NASA. Other authors: Indrani Das, Michael Wolovick, Winnie Chu, Timothy Creyts, Nicholas Frearson, Abdulhakim Abdi, all of Lamont-Doherty, and John Paden of Kansas University.

Copies of the paper, "Widespread Persistent Thickening of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet by Freezing from the Base," are available from the authors or from Nature. UK: j.middleton@nature.com US: k.anderson@natureny.com

Scientist contacts:

Robin Bell 845-365-8827 robinb@ldeo.columbia.edu

Kirsty Tinto 845-365-8598 tinto@ldeo.columbia.edu

More information: Kim Martineau, Science Writer, The Earth Institute kmartine@ldeo.columbia.edu 646-717-0134

The Earth Institute, Columbia University mobilizes the sciences, education and public policy to achieve a sustainable earth. http://www.earth.columbia.edu.

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory seeks fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world. Its scientists study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean, providing a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humanity. http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu

Kim Martineau | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Antarctic Antarctica Earth Glacier Greenland Melting structures

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Antarctic Ice Shelves Rapidly Thinning
30.03.2015 | University of California, San Diego

nachricht Climate change does not cause extreme winters
30.03.2015 | ETH Zurich

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Experiment Provides the Best Look Yet at 'Warm Dense Matter' at Cores of Giant Planets

In an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as...

Im Focus: Energy-autonomous and wireless monitoring protects marine gearboxes

The IPH presents a solution at HANNOVER MESSE 2015 to make ship traffic more reliable while decreasing the maintenance costs at the same time. In cooperation with project partners, the research institute from Hannover, Germany, has developed a sensor system which continuously monitors the condition of the marine gearbox, thus preventing breakdowns. Special feature: the monitoring system works wirelessly and energy-autonomously. The required electrical power is generated where it is needed – directly at the sensor.

As well as cars need to be certified regularly (in Germany by the TÜV – Technical Inspection Association), ships need to be inspected – if the powertrain stops...

Im Focus: 3-D satellite, GPS earthquake maps isolate impacts in real time

Method produced by UI researcher could improve reaction time to deadly, expensive quakes

When an earthquake hits, the faster first responders can get to an impacted area, the more likely infrastructure--and lives--can be saved.

Im Focus: Atlantic Ocean overturning found to slow down already today

The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe. 

Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been...

Im Focus: Robot inspects concrete garage floors and bridge roadways for damage

Because they are regularly subjected to heavy vehicle traffic, emissions, moisture and salt, above- and underground parking garages, as well as bridges, frequently experience large areas of corrosion. Most inspection systems to date have only been capable of inspecting smaller surface areas.

From April 13 to April 17 at the Hannover Messe (hall 2, exhibit booth C16), engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing IZFP will be...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Conference On Regenerative Medicine 2015: Registration And Abstract Submission Now Open

25.03.2015 | Event News

University presidents from all over the world meet in Hamburg

19.03.2015 | Event News

10. CeBiTec Symposium zum Big Data-Problem

17.03.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

BLS Cargo orders 15 multisystem locomotives

30.03.2015 | Press release

Shark Tagged by NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute Is Apparently Enjoying Time in Warm, Tropical Waters

30.03.2015 | Life Sciences

Antarctic Ice Shelves Rapidly Thinning

30.03.2015 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>