The May 24 Science Digest headline gets right to the point: Two Greenland Glaciers Lose Enough Ice to Fill Lake Erie.
A new study aimed at refining the way scientists measure ice loss in Greenland is providing a “high-definition picture” of climate-caused changes on the island. And the picture isn’t pretty.
In the last decade, two of the largest three glaciers draining that frozen landscape have lost enough ice that, if melted, could have filled Lake Erie.
The study, Mass Balance of Greenland’s three largest outlet glaciers (PDF), is one of several recent articles on the dynamics and decline in glaciers and icesheets in Geophysical Research Letters (also see Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise) and elsewhere ( see Sundal et al Melt-induced speed-up of Greenland ice sheet offset by efficient subglacial drainage in Nature and Radić and Hoc’s Regionally differentiated contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to future sea-level rise in Nature Geoscience, which suggests only a 12cm sea-level rise from glaciers and ice sheets by 2100.)
Clearly, the unknowns of these dynamics and rates of change in mass balance are an area where there are many enormously important unanswered questions, but as Frank Paul of the University of Zurich summarizes in his article “Sea-level rise: Melting glaciers and ice caps” in Nature Geoscience:
The quantitative estimates presented by Radić and Hock will need to be updated as more and better glacier data and climate models become available. But in the light of their analysis, and considering potential positive feedbacks, there is little doubt that the fate of glaciers and ice caps looks gloomy on the century timescale, even in the more strongly glacierized regions of the world.
On a related note, here’s a narrated video of a time-lapse made of the Jakobshavn/Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland from the Extreme Ice Survey.