Lasers from space show thinning of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets
The most comprehensive picture of the rapidly thinning glaciers along the coastline of both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has been created using satellite lasers. The findings are an important step forward in the quest to make more accurate predictions for future sea level rise. Reporting this week in the journal Nature researchers from British Antarctic Survey and the University of Bristol describe how analysis of millions of NASA satellite measurements* from both of these vast ice sheets shows that the most profound ice loss is a result of glaciers speeding up where they flow into the sea.
The authors conclude that this 'dynamic thinning' of glaciers now reaches all latitudes in Greenland, has intensified on key Antarctic coastlines, is penetrating far into the ice sheets' interior and is spreading as ice shelves thin by ocean-driven melt. Ice shelf collapse has triggered particularly strong thinning that has endured for decades.
Lead author Dr Hamish Pritchard from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says, "We were surprised to see such a strong pattern of thinning glaciers across such large areas of coastline – it's widespread and in some cases thinning extends hundreds of kilometres inland. We think that warm ocean currents reaching the coast and melting the glacier front is the most likely cause of faster glacier flow. This kind of ice loss is so poorly understood that it remains the most unpredictable part of future sea level rise."
The scientists compared the rates of change in elevation of both fast-flowing and slow-flowing ice. In Greenland for example they studied 111 fast-moving glaciers and found 81 thinning at rates twice that of slow-flowing ice at the same altitude.They found that ice loss from many glaciers in both Antarctica and Greenland is greater than the rate of snowfall further inland.
In Antarctica some of the fastest thinning glaciers are in West Antarctica (Amundsen Sea Embayment) where Pine Island Glacier and neighbouring Smith and Thwaites Glacier are thinning by up to 9 metres per year.
Source: British Antarctic Survey
- NASA Ice Satellite Maps Profound Polar Thinningfrom PhysorgThu, 24 Sep 2009, 16:49:04 EDT
- Earth's glaciers melting at an accelerated ratefrom Physics WorldThu, 24 Sep 2009, 11:56:13 EDT
- Laser satellite records ice lossfrom BBC News: Science & NatureThu, 24 Sep 2009, 10:56:09 EDT
- Lasers from space show thinning of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheetsfrom Science CentricThu, 24 Sep 2009, 4:00:22 EDT
- Lasers From Space Show Thinning Of Greenland And Antarctic Ice Sheetsfrom Science DailyWed, 23 Sep 2009, 22:14:09 EDT
- Lasers from space show thinning of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheetsfrom PhysorgWed, 23 Sep 2009, 14:00:25 EDT
- Polar ice sheets melting into sea: studyfrom CBC: Technology & ScienceWed, 23 Sep 2009, 13:56:25 EDT
- Thinning glaciers are driving polar ice lossfrom The Guardian - ScienceWed, 23 Sep 2009, 13:49:10 EDT
- NASA data: Greenland, Antarctic ice melt worseningfrom AP ScienceWed, 23 Sep 2009, 13:14:26 EDT
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Learn more about
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
- Can legumes solve environmental issues?
- High performance golf club comes with annoying sound
- NASA scientist suggests possible link between primordial black holes and dark matter
- New tabletop instrument tests electron mobility for next-generation electronics
- Scientists discover methane-producing microbes in California rocks
- Hot tubs and swimming pools are not as clean as you may think
- 'Canaries' of the ocean highlight threat to world's ecosystems
- First evidence of icy comets orbiting a sun-like star
- Natural regeneration of tropical forests helps global climate mitigation and forest restoration
- A tool to support public health decisions on Zika virus predicts most planned interventions to be cost-effective