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Mathematician uses skills to study Greenland’s retreating glaciers

Posted on September 11, 2013

Many outlet glaciers in Greenland feed ice from the land into fjords, where discharge of icebergs and melting of the glaciers by warmer ocean waters contribute to rising sea levels.

David Holland of New York University (NYU) studies what happens in the fjord when ice meets water–how the dynamics at the margin between ice and sea are changing, and what those changes could mean in the future for global sea level rise.

A recent study funded by NSF finds that the western part of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought. The temperature record from Byrd Station, an unmanned scientific outpost in the center of the ice sheet, demonstrates a marked increase of 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) in average annual temperature since 1958. That is three times faster than the average temperature rise around the globe. The findings place West Antarctica among the fastest warming regions on Earth, according to Andrew Monaghan, study co-author and scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Researchers consider the WAIS to be especially sensitive to climate change, says Ohio State University doctoral student Julien Nicolas. Since the base of the ice sheet rests below sea level, it is vulnerable to direct contact with warm ocean water. Its melting currently contributes 0.3 millimeters (mm) to sea level rise each year--second to Greenland, whose contribution to sea level rise has been estimated as high as 0.7 mm per year. Read more in this news release.  Credit: Ohio State University

A recent study funded by NSF finds that the western part of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought. The temperature record from Byrd Station, an unmanned scientific outpost in the center of the ice sheet, demonstrates a marked increase of 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) in average annual temperature since 1958. That is three times faster than the average temperature rise around the globe. The findings place West Antarctica among the fastest warming regions on Earth, according to Andrew Monaghan, study co-author and scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Researchers consider the WAIS to be especially sensitive to climate change, says Ohio State University doctoral student Julien Nicolas. Since the base of the ice sheet rests below sea level, it is vulnerable to direct contact with warm ocean water. Its melting currently contributes 0.3 millimeters (mm) to sea level rise each year–second to Greenland, whose contribution to sea level rise has been estimated as high as 0.7 mm per year. Read more in this news release. Credit: Ohio State University

In recent years, the rate of ice flow from the land to the water has accelerated in some glaciers, and the melting of the ice in the fjords has also increased. The purpose of this project is to improve the understanding of the role of the ocean in these fast, dynamical changes at the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The glaciers feeding into two fjords, Jakobshavn on Greenland’s west coast and Helheim on the east coast, have accelerated significantly in recent years. Holland and his team have been making oceanographic and meteorological observations in these fjords. These observations are being used to develop and validate a coupled model of the ocean and ice sheet that will enable improved understanding of processes that contribute to sea level rise.

Source: NSF

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