New York: Mapping for the first time how the Greenland’s ice sheet has moved over time, scientists have found that ice in the interior is moving more slowly towards the edges than it has, on average, during the past 9,000 years.
The findings, which researchers said do not change the fact that the ice sheet is losing mass overall and contributing to sea level rise, were published in the journal Science.
“Scientists are very interested in understanding how ice sheets flow and how that flow may have been different in the past. Our paleo-velocity map for Greenland allows us to assess the flow of the ice sheet right now in the context of the last several thousand years,” said lead author Joe MacGregor from The University of Texas at Austin in the US.
Along Greenland’s periphery, many glaciers are rapidly thinning. However, the vast interior of Greenland is slowly thickening, a process the new study clarified.
“Like many others, I had in mind the ongoing dramatic retreat and speedup along the edges of the ice sheet, so I’d assumed that the interior was faster now too. But it wasn’t,” MacGregor said.
The scientists identified three causes for this deceleration. First is that snowfall rates were generally higher during the past 9,000 years, second is the slow stiffening of the ice sheet over time, and third is the collapse of an “ice bridge” that used to connect Greenland’s ice to that on nearby Ellesmere Island.
“The ice that formed from snow that fell in Greenland during the last ice age is about three times softer than the ice being formed today,” co-author of the study William Colgan from York University in Toronto, Canada.
Because of this difference, the ice sheet is slowly becoming stiffer. As a consequence, the ice sheet is flowing more slowly and getting thicker over time, the study said.
The study built on earlier research that developed a database of the many layers within Greenland’s ice sheet.
Using this database, the scientists determined the flow pattern for the past 9,000 years — in effect creating a “paleo-velocity” map.