Is Greenland Gaining or Losing Ice?

Is Greenland Gaining or Losing Ice?

Rate of Change In Ice Sheet Height for Greenland
Glaciers in Greenland Marching Faster to Sea, Study Says 

Glaciers are shooting out to the ocean. The sea level is rising. Furthermore, this image is neither a threat exclusively for the inhabitants of coastal territories, nor it represents a slow process that seems a distant concern. The above suggestion is given by Eric Rignot, the leading investigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

Eric Rignot and his co-author Pannir Kanagaratnam monitor the ice loss of major glaciers in Greenland through satellite data. Furthermore, the study reveals, from 1996 to 2005, Greenland Ice Sheet has lost more than twice the volume of ice in a decade. 

The world’s biggest block of ice, Greenland, if you leave aside the Antarctic, contributed 224 cubic kilometers of water to the sea in the year 2005. The amount beats that of water consumed by the whole state of Pennsylvania in 2015. Such a great leakage has repercussions in unlimited coastal areas. Despite being an inland city, Pittsburgh feels the pressure on water quality as more contaminants are carried by more streams, which ultimately point to the thinning ice sheets. 

The loss does not simply follow from streams of melted ice.

Rather, the icebergs themselves are sliding to the sea. What’s more, they are speeding up. Rignot estimates the flow speed of major glaciers all over vast Greenland. In the southeast, glaciers have substantially retreated. The Flow Of icebergs accelerated 57% from 1996 to 2005 while the ice loss doubled. Along the southern coastline, the acceleration is highly consistent with glaciers shrinking in general. 

Researchers determine that the loss from glacier acceleration constitutes two-thirds ofGreenland’s contribution to sea level, becoming the primary factor. The gains of glaciers from snowing do not suffice to compensate. Overall, the acceleration is faster than previous beliefs. Rignot admits in an interview, “I did not quite expect to see such abrupt changes and such large acceleration.” 

The scientists do not conclude a clear cause in their study.

Moreover, though they nominate climate warming as the candidate. Warming creates a chance for water from the melted ice to penetrate deep down to the solid rock that supports glaciers. Now, the liquid serves as a lubricant. Glaciers May slide as naturally as sweaty palms would loosen your grip. 

Nevertheless, Rignot notes that impacts of climate warming involve multiple underlying processes that are combined to determine the acceleration. Among the processes, the details of many remain a mystery. Rignot hopes that future models of the Greenland Ice Sheet will take into account relevant physical factors.

Indeed, Rignot’s study is the first to employ real data about the speed of glaciers. Previousresearches is based on estimations that ignore the recent development of ice flows. As a result, Greenland’s contribution to the sea level has been well underestimated in the past. 

“What it means right now is that Greenland is producing 20 percent of the sea rise”, Rignot said.

Considering how major glaciers dramatically stepped up in a decade, the scientist warns against a spread of acceleration farther north in Greenland, with subsequent sea-level increase. 

In conclusion, Rignot’s findings show that glaciers speed up at an unexpected rate. The acceleration of ice flow dominates Greenland’s contribution to the sea level. Lastly, as impacts of the ocean reach all over the world, we must be more alert when looking at the thinning ice in Greenland.


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Dieter CA, Maupin MA, Caldwell RR, Harris MA, Ivahnenko TI, Lovelace JK, Barber NL, Linsey KS. 2018. Estimated use of water in the United States in 2015. U.S. Geological Survey. Circular 144:64. 

Harris R. 2006 Feb 17. Study: Greenland Ice Sheet Melting Faster Than Thought. NPR news. [accessed 2021 Apr 27]. php?storyId=5220835 

Marris E. 2006 Feb 16. Glacial pace picks up. Nature. [accessed 2021 Apr 27]. 

Rignot E, Kanagaratnam P. 2006. Changes in the velocity of the Greenland ice sheet. Science. 311:986-990.

Is Greenland Gaining or Losing Ice? Written by Leslie Li

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