Greenland glacier losing mass at a rate of five billion tons per year: Zachariae Isstrom Glacier

Published: November 13, 2015

Greenland glacier losing mass at a rate of five billion tons per year: Zachariae Isstrom Glacier, The Zachariae Isstrom glacier in Greenland, which is so massive it has the ability to raise the world’s ocean levels by a staggering 20 inches if it were to melt, is breaking up, with ice bergs snapping off and dumping up to 5 billion tons of ice into the surrounding waters.

Before it broke free in 2012 thanks to warmer water temperatures, the glacier had perched on a ridge of bedrock, CBC News reported. Now, according to a new study published in the journal Science, the Zachariae Isstrom is shedding a huge amount of ice every year.

“[The Zachariae Isstrom] has now transformed into a tidewater glacier calving along an ice cliff as a result of warmer air and ocean temperatures,” the Science journal study said. “The mass loss is driven by the increase in ice discharge rather than a change in [surface mass balance].”

“Tidewater glaciers are known to retreat rapidly along retrograde beds until the bed rises again. We project that [the Zachariae Isstrom] may continue retreating rapidly for another 20-30 years. Its ice front will progressively widen from 19 kilometers at present to 50 kilometers about 30 kilometers upstream, thereby increasing ice discharge,” the study continued.

Sea levels have already increased some 20 centimeters since 1900 and could come to threaten low-lying tropical island nations, according to CBC News.

“North Greenland glaciers are changing rapidly,” Jeremie Mouginot, lead study author from the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The shape and dynamics of Zachariae Isstrom have changed dramatically over the last few years. The glacier is now breaking up and calving high volumes of icebergs into the ocean, which will result in rising sea levels for decades to come,” he continued.

The glacier is also facing the double whammy of not only warming waters, but warmer air, according to the study’s senior author Eric Rignot, of the University of California, Irvine, and faculty appointee to the laboratory.

“Zachariae Isstrom is being hit from above and below,” Rignot said in the laboratory’s statement. “The top of the glacier is melting away as a result of decades of steadily increasing air temperatures, while its underside is compromised by currents carrying warmer ocean water, and the glacier is now breaking away into bits and pieces and retreating into deeper ground.”


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