Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Greenland's ice loss accelerating rapidly, gravity-measuring satellites reveal

A new analysis of data from twin satellites has revealed that the melting of Greenland's ice sheet has increased dramatically in the past few years, with much of the loss occurring primarily along one shoreline potentially affecting weather in Western Europe.

The loss of ice has been occurring about five times faster from Greenland's southeastern region in the past two years than in the previous year and a half. The dramatic changes were documented during a University of Texas at Austin study of Greenland's mass between 2002 and 2005.

The study was published today in the journal Science. Related results on the significant loss of ice from Antarctica were published in Science in March by other researchers participating in the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission. The GRACE mission is funded by NASA and the German Aerospace Center, and led by Aerospace Engineering Professor Byron Tapley at the university.

"Our latest GRACE findings are the most complete measurement of ice mass loss for Greenland," said Tapley, director of the university's Center for Space Research (CSR) and holder of the Clare Cockrell Williams Centennial Chair in Engineering. "The sobering thing to see is that the whole process of glacial melting is stepping up much more rapidly than before."

Antarctica is considered the largest, and Greenland the second largest, reservoir of fresh water on Earth, with the latter containing about 10 percent of the world's fresh water. Melting of ice from these two regions is expected to impact sea level and ocean circulation, and potentially the future of climates worldwide.

The Greenland study, for example, suggests that the amount of fresh water contributed from the melting of its ice sheet could add 0.56 millimeters annually to a global increase in sea levels, higher than all previously published measurements.

"These findings are consistent with the most recent independent measurements of Greenland's mass done by other techniques like satellite radar interferometry, but in this case they provide a direct measure of ice-mass changes," said Geology Professor Clark Wilson, a co-author on the latest Science article who helped analyze the estimates for Greenland. Wilson chairs the Department of Geological Sciences at the university and holds the Wallace E. Pratt Professorship in Geophysics.

Within the subpolar zone that includes Greenland, the rapid rise in meltwater along its eastern coast could add to other warming-related factors believed to be weakening the counterclockwise flow of the North Atlantic Current. For instance, the increased meltwater could change how more buoyant fresh water mixes with salt water in a branch of this flow called the Norwegian Current. This change could lower the temperatures of water, and thus wind, that travels past the west coast of Ireland and Great Britain.

That ocean temperature change would occur because the current might not move northward past Norway before returning to more southerly latitudes. Warmer, southerly waters would be stalled from moving northward if that happened, resulting in chillier winters in parts of Western Europe.

"If enough fresh water enters the Norwegian Current," Tapley said, "and you interrupt return flow, then there could be climate effects in Europe."

The twin GRACE satellites provide the most comprehensive monthly estimates of Greenland's ice-mass balance The satellites are sensitive to the gravitational pull of mass changes on Earth, which produce micrometer-scale variations in the distance (137 miles or 220 kilometers) that separates the two satellites as they fly in formation over Earth.

Lead author Jianli Chen, a CSR research scientist, developed a method to improve the effective spatial resolution of mass change estimates. The method used the known locations of major glaciers as information in estimating the sources of mass change.

"By using this special filtering procedure," Chen said, "we teased out additional details of mass changes in Greenland along its Southeastern and Northeastern shores separately."

The estimates showed that 69 percent of the ice-mass loss in recent years came from eastern Greenland. Of the 57 cubic miles (239 cubic kilometers) of water mass lost on average each year, 39 cubic miles (164 cubic kilometers) were from the eastern shoreline. More than half of that eastern loss involved ice from the glacier complex in southeast Greenland.

"This melting process may be approaching a point where it won't be centuries before Greenland's ice melts, but a much shorter time-frame," Tapley said, noting that it isn't possible to tell how much sooner this will be.

Tapley in the College of Engineering, and Wilson, whose department is part of the Jackson School of Geosciences, lead grants funded primarily by NASA to pursue research questions related to large-scale mass changes impacting Earth's features.

Becky Rische | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic
24.10.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>