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 Earth Day: Disease spread among species is predictable
24.04.2015 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Warming climate may release vast amounts of carbon from long-frozen Arctic soils
24.04.2015 | University of Georgia

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Fast and Accurate 3-D Imaging Technique to Track Optically-Trapped Particles

KAIST researchers published an article on the development of a novel technique to precisely track the 3-D positions of optically-trapped particles having complicated geometry in high speed in the April 2015 issue of Optica.

Daejeon, Republic of Korea, April 23, 2015--Optical tweezers have been used as an invaluable tool for exerting micro-scale force on microscopic particles and...

Im Focus: NOAA, Tulane identify second possible specimen of 'pocket shark' ever found

Pocket sharks are among the world's rarest finds

A very small and rare species of shark is swimming its way through scientific literature. But don't worry, the chances of this inches-long vertebrate biting...

Im Focus: Drexel materials scientists putting a new spin on computing memory

Ever since computers have been small enough to be fixtures on desks and laps, their central processing has functioned something like an atomic Etch A Sketch, with electromagnetic fields pushing data bits into place to encode data.

Unfortunately, the same drawbacks and perils of the mechanical sketch board have been just as pervasive in computing: making a change often requires starting...

Im Focus: Exploding stars help to understand thunderclouds on Earth

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer - how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was discovered, more or less by coincidence, that cosmic rays provide suitable probes to measure electric fields within thunderclouds. This surprising finding is published in Physical Review Letters on April 24th. The measurements were performed with the LOFAR radio telescope located in the Netherlands.

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer - how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was...

Im Focus: On the trail of a trace gas

Max Planck researcher Buhalqem Mamtimin determines how much nitrogen oxide is released into the atmosphere from agriculturally used oases.

In order to make statements about current and future air pollution, scientists use models which simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. A lot of information such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

HHL Energy Conference on May 11/12, 2015: Students Discuss about Decentralized Energy

23.04.2015 | Event News

“Developing our cities, preserving our planet”: Nobel Laureates gather for the first time in Asia

23.04.2015 | Event News

HHL's Entrepreneurship Conference on FinTech

13.04.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrons Move Like Light in Three-Dimensional Solid

24.04.2015 | Materials Sciences

Connecting Three Atomic Layers Puts Semiconducting Science on Its Edge

24.04.2015 | Materials Sciences

Understanding the Body’s Response to Worms and Allergies

24.04.2015 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>