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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Melting, Inside Out

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, June 22, 2017/Categories: natural history, space science, sustainability, environment, climate change


Rink Glacier Melt Wave, Jun-Dec, 2012 (dark color=mass loss, red color=mass gain, star=wave center. credit: JPL)

Glacial research just published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that large melting events have occurred on the inside of a glacier in Greenland. The data was gathered during summer 2010 and 2012, two of Greenland's hottest years. The mass-wave measurements are the first such on major glaciers in Greenland or Antarctica. By observing them, a new mechanism for glacial melting has been determined, not been considered in sea level rise or climate models previously.


            Rink Glacier, Greenland with Meltwater Lake in center (credit: Operation Ice Bridge)

According to the researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA's Operatoin Ice Bridge,

"the ice in Rink Glacier on the island's west coast didn't just melt faster than usual, it slid through the glacier's interior in a gigantic wave, like a warmed freezer pop sliding out of its plastic casing. The wave persisted for four months, with ice from upstream continuing to move down to replace the missing mass for at least four more months. The new discovery that may increase the potential for sustained ice loss in Greenland as the climate continues to warm, with implications for the future rate of sea level rise."

Applying a combination of low-flying scanning aircraft as well as GPS horizontal motion sensors on the glacier's surface, the researchers determined the glacier lost 6.7 gigatons of mass in a solitary wave of water during the intensely hot summer of 2012. This volume of loss was in addtion to draining the previously determined 11 gigatons of ice annually. Previous wrok had determined that previously known hydrologic processes combined to make the mass move quickly. A huge volume of water lubricated the base of the glacier, allowing its rapid movement that softened the glacier's sides where the flowing ice meets rock. These changes allowed the ice to slide downstream so fast that ice farther inland couldn't keep up.

A lead investigator summarized their findings:

"The intense melting we saw in 2010 and 2012 is without precedent but it represents the kind of glacial behavior that we might expect in the future in a warming climate. We're seeing an evolving system."

Expect many more such climate and environmental anomalies to be reported from elsewhere.



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