Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the Durham University-led study used computer modelling to analyse changes on Helheim Glacier in south-east Greenland. The researchers concluded that the driver of the Helheim melting was a break in the ice at the glacier’s lowest end (or snout), in the sea. That break then gave rise to a chain of effects inland. The researchers also found that glaciers stabilise after an initial period of rapid shrinkage.
Although they studied only the one glacier, the scientists said their findings apply to those in terrain similar to Helheim, grounded at their snout in a trough reaching below sea level.
Scientists seek to better understand the dynamics of glacial melting, which the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change said in 2007 may contribute to rising sea levels and coastal flooding around the world. If they melted, Greenland’s ice sheets could raise sea levels by about seven metres. However, uncertainty surrounds how much ice Greenland actually will lose. The new findings may help in the calibration of United Nations climate models.
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