Satellite images show that, after decades of stability, a major glacier draining the Greenland ice sheet has dramatically increased its speed and retreated nearly five miles in recent years. These changes could contribute to rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet and cause the global sea level to rise faster than expected, according to researchers studying the glacier.
A paper describing these findings will be published this month in Geophysical Research Letters. The study focused on the Helheim glacier, one of the largest outlet glaciers in Greenland. Warming air and sea temperatures in the area likely caused the glacier to speed up, said Slawek Tulaczyk, associate professor of Earth sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a coauthor of the paper.
The Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise global sea levels by 15 to 20 feet. Although the entire ice sheet is unlikely to melt in this century, even a small change in the rate of melting could inundate low-lying coastal plains and add enough fresh water to the North Atlantic to change ocean circulation patterns, Tulaczyk said.
Emily Saarman | EurekAlert!
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