Science News reveals the discovery of ice flows off Greenland’s melting that had been hidden until now. Researchers say the amount of sea-level rise due to the melting ice could be six times greater than we’d previously estimated:
“It’s not something that we expected,” says Shfaqat Abbas Khan, a glaciologist at the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby. “Greenland and Antarctica’s contributions to sea level rise in the next 80 years will be significantly larger than we have predicted until now.”
In the new study, Khan and colleagues focused on the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, a titanic conveyor belt of solid ice that crawls about 600 kilometers out of the landmass’s hinterland and into the sea. It drains about 12 percent of the country’s entire ice sheet and contains enough water to raise global sea level more than a meter. Near the coast, the ice stream splits into two glaciers, Nioghalvfjerdsfjord and Zachariae Isstrøm.
While frozen, these glaciers keep the ice behind them from rushing into the sea, much like dams hold back water in a river. When the ice shelf of Zachariae Isstrøm collapsed about a decade ago, scientists found that the flow of ice behind the glacier started accelerating. But whether those changes penetrated deep into Greenland’s interior remained largely unresolved.
The team analyzed GPS data from three stations along the ice stream’s main trunk, all located between 90 and 190 kilometers inland.
The data showed that the ice stream had accelerated at all three points from 2016 to 2019. In that time frame, the ice speed at the station farthest inland increased from about 344 meters per year to surpassing 351 meters per year.
Khan and his colleagues then used the data to tune computer simulations that forecast the ice stream’s impact on sea level rise. The researchers predict that by 2100, the ice stream will have singlehandedly contributed between about 14 to 16 millimeters of global sea level rise — as much as Greenland’s entire ice sheet has in the last 50 years.
You can read more of Khan’s Greenland research here, in Nature.