A decade-long study of Greenland's glaciers suggests they may notbe melting as quickly as thought, leading to a slower sea-levelrise than worst-case predictions, said a study on Thursday. How fast glaciers melt depends in large part on how fast they move,and the research in the journal Science shows the glaciers may leadto a sea level rise of 0.8 meters (2.6 feet) by 2100, not twometers (6.5 feet) as some have estimated previously. Scientists pored over satellite data from Canada, Germany and Japanspanning from 2000 to 2011, and found that Greenland's largestglaciers, which end on land, move rather slowly, between 30 and 325feet (nine to 100 meters) per year. Glaciers that end in ice shelves move more quickly, from 1,000 feet(305 meters) to a mile (1.6 kilometers) per year. |
"So far, on average we're seeing about a 30 percent speedup in 10years," said lead author Twila Moon, a University of Washingtondoctoral student in earth and space sciences. Fast-moving glaciers release more ice and meltwater into the oceanthan slow-moving ones. Since previous estimates of Greenland's glacier melt speed variedwidely -- from adding four to 19 inches (10 to 48 centimeters) tothe rising sea level by 2100 -- Moon said she embarked on theresearch get a better grasp on what was actually happening. "We don't have a really good handle on it and we need to have thatif we're going to understand the effects of climate change," shesaid.
However, while the study gave researchers a clearer picture of howglaciers currently move and melt at varying speeds, many questionsstill remain about how that may impact sea-level rise in thedecades to come. "There's the caveat that this 10-year time series is too short toreally understand long-term behavior," said co-author Ian Howat, anassistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University. "So there still may be future events -- tipping points -- thatcould cause large increases in glacier speed to continue," headded. "Or perhaps some of the big glaciers in the north of Greenland thathaven't yet exhibited any changes may begin to speed up, whichwould greatly increase the rate of sea level rise." The research was funded by the US space agency NASA and theNational Science Foundation.
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