Melting Greenland glacier may hasten rise in sea level

A A A

Scientists monitoring a glacier in Greenland have found it is moving into the sea three times faster than a decade ago.

Satellite measurements of the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier show that, as well as moving more rapidly, the glacier's boundary is shrinking dramatically - probably because of melting brought about by climate change.

The Kangerdlugssuaq glacier on Greenland's east coast is one of several that drains the huge Greenland ice sheet. The glacier's movements are considered critical in understanding the rate at which the ice sheet is melting.

Kangerdlugssuaq is about 1,000 metres (3,280ft) thick, about 4.5 miles wide, extends for more than 20 miles into the ice sheet and drains about 4 per cent of the ice from the Greenland ice sheet.

Experts believe any change in the rate at which the glacier transports ice from the ice sheet into the ocean has important implications for increases in sea levels around the world.

If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt into the ocean it would raise sea levels by up to seven metres (23ft), inundating vast areas of low-lying land, including London and much of eastern England.

Computer models suggest that this would take at least 1,000 years but even a sea-level rise of a metre would have a catastrophic impact on coastal plains where more than two-thirds of the world's population live.

Measurements taken in 1988 and in 1996 show the glacier was moving at a rate of between 3.1 and 3.7 miles per year. The latest measurements taken this summer show it is now moving at 8.7 miles a year.

Gordon Hamilton, professor of earth sciences at Maine University, who made the measurements using global positioning system (GPS) satellites, said the velocity measurements were accurate to within about 45 metres of movement per year and that Kangerdlugssuaq is probably the fastest-moving glacier in the world.

"This is a dramatic discovery. There is concern that the acceleration of this and similar glaciers and the associated discharge of ice is not described in current ice-sheet models of the effects of climate change," Professor Hamilton said.

"These new results suggest the loss of ice from the Greenland ice sheet, unless balanced by an equivalent increase in snowfall, could be larger and faster than previously estimated."

Kangerdlugssuaq is a relatively southern glacier and the scientists are concerned that more northerly glaciers, which have not shown such an increase in speed of movement, may follow suit if the warming of the Arctic region continues.

Professor Hamilton said: "As the warming trend migrates north, glaciers at higher latitudes in Greenland might also respond in the same way as Kangerdlugssuaq glacier.

"In turn, that could have serious implications for the rate of sea-level rise," .

The independently funded scientists from Maine made the measurements from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise which is sailing off the Greenland coast documenting the signs and impacts of climate change in the Arctic.

Martina Krüger, Greenpeace's expedition leader, said there were signs that the glacier was both retreating and moving faster at the same time.

"The speed up of the glacier is due to increased surface melting, which generates meltwater that trickles down to the glacier bed and lubricates the bedrock," Ms Krüger said.

"This decreases the friction and the glacier slides more easily. This is accompanied by a thinning of the glacier, because the glacier stretches more.

"The front or terminus of the glacier is usually pinned or anchored to a higher feature on the ocean floor, such as a ridge from where it calves icebergs.

"As the glacier thins, it will float off that pinning point. Once the glacier has lost that anchoring, it retreats into deeper water behind that pinning point."

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick