Monday, August 18, 2008

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Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier

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Kangerdlugssuaq, the largest outlet glacier on Greenland’s east coast, is one of 12 fast flowing outlet glaciers that discharge ice into the surrounding oceans. Its rate of flow more than doubled between 2000 and 2005 reaching a speed of 14 km per year or 1.6 meters per hour. It has since slowed. During this same period mean summer temperature at coastal weather stations along southeastern Greenland increased 1.1° C. While the mechanisms controlling the rate of flow are complex and not fully understood, there is a general consensus that warming temperatures are driving the increased rates of discharge.

The fronts of glaciers throughout southeast Greenland also receded rapidly during this same time period; an average retreat of 24 m/yr increasing to an average of 175 m/yr. Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier, which had been retreating 25 to 100 meters per year in the period between 1992 and 2000, retreated more than 4 km between April 2004 and April 2005.

The loss of the Greenland Ice sheet is a major factor in projecting the sea level rise which might result from global warming. Loss of the entire sheet would raise global sea level an estimated 7 meters. If melting were the only mechanism through which Greenland was losing ice mass, this could take 1000s of years. The acceleration of Greenland’s glaciers raises concerns that the global sea level may rise more rapidly under global warming scenarios than had previously been estimated.
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