A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters reports the findings of a pair of satellites that measure gravity to get a clearer picture of the continued ice mass loss in Greenland, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The study found accelerated ice loss in the Arctic, and steady loss in Alaska, which will have significant implications for sea level rise globally. The researchers, Christopher Harig and Frederik J. Simmons, both of Princeton University, analyzed data from the two satellites, called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), in order to not only find the current state of ice mass within glaciers and ice sheets, but the changes in mass since 2003. GRACE’s dual satellites circle the Earth together, and minute fluctuations in their orbit serve as a basis for measuring the Earth’s gravitational field. The two are separated by approximately 137 miles, and as they fluctuate with the changing gravitational pull, the distance between the two varies slightly. (The two satellites are nicknamed Tom and Jerry, a reference to the cartoon cat and mouse.) Coupling the differing distances with precise GPS locations, GRACE is able to provide a view of the Earth’s gravity with “unprecedented accuracy” as NASA says. This level of detail allows researchers to easily find even minute trends in mass changes. GRACE is more commonly used over large areas, such as ice sheets, but in this research the authors studied areas “near the [lower] limit that can be resolved by GRACE data.” After thermal expansion, mountain glaciers and ice caps are the second highest contributor to sea level rise, making accurate and efficient study of the mass loss from smaller areas critical...Read More
Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news. Totten Glacier Hurtles Towards Retreat and Possible Collapse From Nature: “Satellite-based observations indicate that the margin of Totten Glacier may be experiencing greater ice loss than anywhere else in East Antarctica. This, coupled with the presence of low-lying subglacial basins upstream means the Totten Glacier catchment area could be at risk of substantial ice loss under ocean-warming conditions.” Learn more about the processes causing this retreat and the potential sea level rise associated with it. Are Dams the Glaciers of Tomorrow? From Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL: “Water management in reservoirs could substantially mitigate future summer water shortages, expected as a consequence of ongoing glacier retreat, researchers report. The team simulated the effect of climatic change on glaciers across the European Alps and estimated that two thirds of the effect on seasonal water availability could be avoided when storing water in areas becoming ice free.” Find out how these researchers suggest dealing with glacier retreat and water supplies. Scientists Present New Research on Tibet’s Climate Risks From The Columbus Dispatch: “A consortium of scientists from around the world have gathered in Columbus at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center for the first U.S. meeting about climate issues facing the Tibetan Plateau, a region that includes about 100,000 square kilometers of glaciers that provide drinking water to nearly a third of the Earth’s people.” Read more about the importance of the Tibetan Plateau and why these scientists feel action is so urgently...Read More
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s ongoing operation called IceBridge uses manned aircraft to study polar ice. IceBridge serves to bridge the gap between NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which stopped collecting data in 2009, and NASA’s second generation of the satellite (ICESat-2) which is scheduled to launch later this year. The six year operation is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice, and collects data about ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice in Greenland and the Antarctic. The goal is to document annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets along with collecting information to help with the modeling the effect of climate change on Earth’s polar ice, specifically in connection to possible sea-level rise. IceBridge Airplanes fly over Greenland between March and May and in over Antarctica between October and November. Smaller airplane surveys of ice around the world are also included in the IceBridge operation. Pic from today's #IceBridge flight: Network of supraglacial meltwater drainage channels. pic.twitter.com/hlUvPQky5y — NASA ICE (@NASA_ICE) May 18, 2016...Read More
The only way for visitors to walk on two iconic glaciers in New Zealand, the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, is by taking a helicopter ride— a situation that probably won’t change in the foreseeable future, a spokesperson for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has told GlacierHub. The Associated Press reported in March, under the headline “Hiking on New Zealand glaciers banned because of rapid melting,” that it had become impossible for visitors to hike up onto these glaciers because of the dangers posed by their quick recession. It also noted that the number of people who could walk on the glaciers had been cut in half now that helicopters have become the only way to venture onto them, compared to before when people could hike up onto them. Jose Watson, a communications adviser for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand, explained the situation in an email to GlacierHub: There are rivers that come out of the terminal face (front) of the glacier and these rivers often change course meaning that tracks, bridges and viewing points are regularly moved. The glacier is receding, and has reached a point where it is no longer possible to access on foot, so if people want to walk on the glacier they can do so by booking a helihike with one of the guiding companies. A helihike takes people up onto a safe spot on the glacier and walk goes from there. Walking access has not been “banned” as such, but it’s not possible, or safe at the moment, and this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. While helicopters might be a quick and exciting way for tourists to see...Read More
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