While conducting a study of Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory uncovered a previously unseen way in which the ice and ocean interact.
While conducting a study of Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory uncovered a previously unseen way in which the ice and ocean interact. The glaciologists said their findings could mean that the climate community has been vastly underestimating the magnitude of future sea level rise caused by polar ice deterioration.
Using satellite radar data from three European missions, the UCI/NASA team learned that Petermann Glacier’s grounding line – where ice detaches from the land bed and begins floating in the ocean – shifts substantially during tidal cycles, allowing warm seawater to intrude and melt ice at an accelerated rate. The group’s results are the subject of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Petermann’s grounding line could be more accurately described as a grounding zone, because it migrates between 2 and 6 kilometers as tides come in and out,” said lead author Enrico Ciraci, UCI assistant specialist in Earth system science and NASA postdoctoral fellow. “This is an order of magnitude larger than expected for grounding lines on a rigid bed.”
He said the traditional view of grounding lines beneath ocean-reaching glaciers was that they did not migrate during tidal cycles, nor did they experience ice melt. But the new study replaces that thinking with knowledge that warm ocean water intrudes beneath the ice through preexisting subglacial channels, with the highest melt rates occurring at the grounding zone.
Read more at University of California - Irvine
Image: In the center of this NASA photograph taken in 2012, Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland gradually moves toward the ocean, with large segments breaking off and drifting away as icebergs. Researchers at UCI and NASA JPL used satellite data from three European missions to learn how warm ocean water is causing the migration of the glacier’s grounding line, leading to its rapid deterioration. (Credit: NASA)