In this Video of the Week, watch an aerial view of the flow line at the Jakobshavn Glacier, in Ilulissat, Greenland. The video was posted on Twitter by Santiago de la Peña of Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center.
“This behemoth shreds into the ocean the equivalent of San Francisco’s water consumption,” he said.
Jakobshavn glacier is well known for likely producing the iceberg that sunk the Titanic.
It is also a very dynamic glacier. In the early 2000s, Jakobshavn was one of the fastest-flowing glaciers in the world, losing up to 20 meters in height each year. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2010, Jakobshavn alone contributed almost 1 millimeter to global sea level rise. In more recent years, however, Jakobshavn is actually growing again, now gaining about 20 meters in height per year.
“Nearly 300 mountaineers have died on the peak since the first ascent attempt and two-thirds of bodies are thought still to be buried in the snow and ice.
Bodies are being removed on the Chinese side of the mountain, to the north, as the spring climbing season starts.
More than 4,800 climbers have scaled the highest peak on Earth.
‘Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed,’ said Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of [the] Nepal Mountaineering Association.
‘We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out.'”
Greenland’s Jakobshavn is advancing, slowing, and thickening
From Nature Geoscience: “Jakobshavn Isbrae has been the single largest source of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet over the last 20 years. During that time, it has been retreating, accelerating, and thinning. Here we use airborne altimetry and satellite imagery to show that since 2016 Jakobshavn has been re-advancing, slowing, and thickening. We link these changes to concurrent cooling of ocean waters in Disko Bay that spill over into Ilulissat Icefjord. Ocean temperatures in the bay’s upper 250 [meters] have cooled to levels not seen since the mid 1980s. Observations and modeling trace the origins of this cooling to anomalous wintertime heat loss in the boundary current that circulates around the southern half of Greenland. Longer time series of ocean temperature, subglacial discharge, and glacier variability strongly suggest that ocean-induced melting at the front has continued to influence glacier dynamics after the disintegration of its floating tongue in 2003. We conclude that projections of Jakobshavn’s future contribution to sea-level rise that are based on glacier geometry are insufficient, and that accounting for external forcing is indispensable.”
Famous for being the largest and fastest-thinning glacier in Greenland—and creating the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier has recently increased in size. For the past 20 years it has been melting, but during 2016-2017 it grew vertically about 100 feet, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
With so much news about global warming, it’s rare to hear about a glacier that’s expanding. It is crucial to note, though, that the glacier’s growth is not because climate change has suddenly stopped. Rather, it’s expansion can be attributed to cooler temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. The cooling occurred in 2016 and is likely due to the natural variability of North Atlantic Oscillation.
The waters of the Atlantic will eventually warm again and could bring about renewed melting of the Jakobshavn Glacier—and higher sea levels.
“At first we didn’t believe it,” NASA’s Ala Khazendar said. “We had pretty much assumed that Jakobshavn would just keep going on as it had over the last 20 years.”
The glaciers of southeast Greenland are not easy to research. You ride in on a small fishing boat, searching among the icebergs for the best place to stick a glorified straw into the mud. Which is just what a team of researchers did in 2011 to retrieve a sediment core that describes 9,000 years of history from the Køge Bugt glacier system. In September, the team released a paper in Nature’s Scientific Reports describing the results.
The Køge Bugt glacier system contains three of the largest glaciers of the Greenland Ice Sheet, all of which have contributed to recent ice loss. Because of the lack of previous research in the area, investigating this system promised worthwhile results. The team collected a nearly two-meter-long sediment core from the center of Køge Bugt, the body of water that also gives the glacier system its name. This area receives sediment input from the three glaciers in the system, and while the core cannot provide inference about the individual glaciers, it gives information about the system’s collective behavior, according to the report.
“We expected it to be a record that would, if we were lucky, be just a few thousand years and possibly even much less than that, so it was really quite a surprise when we got our first radiocarbon dates back,” lead researcher Laurence Dyke told Glacier Hub. A record this old, especially for a glacier system like Køge Bugt, with little previous historical research, can now provide baseline data to contrast with the changes in the system over the last two decades.
Compared to the more well-studied Jakobshavn Glacier in Western Greenland, the levels of retreat exhibited by Køge Bugt over the past 9,000 years appear minimal, the team notes. There is evidenceof Jakobshavn retreating in the order of 30 to 50 kilometers further inland than its current location during the Holocene. Køge Bugt seems to have only retreated five or six kilometers. Due to the difficulty of studying this area, it is hard to say how anomalous these results are without further investigation.
The researchers attribute this minimal retreat of Køge Bugt glaciers to their sub-ice topography. Most studied glaciers on Greenland sit in a deep fjord system several hundreds of kilometers long– essentially a long trough that runs onto the continental shelf and inland beneath the glacier. However, the glaciers in the Køge Bugt system are different. These glaciers sit on a steep bedrock slope, more like a bowl than a trough. This helped to stabilize the glacier throughout the Holocene.
While the researchers are not sure of what caused this configuration, Dyke says it’s certainly what is controlling the glaciers’ behavior. “If you want to predict the whole of Greenland,” says Dyke, “then you really need to have very good geometry of both the sub-ice and the sub-ocean.” Dyke and his team hope that their research into Køge Bugt will be used by climate modelers to further inform how models reflect glacier geometry and to interpret the Køge Bugt system’s current and future behavior.
The paper’s findings would not be so striking if not for recent activity in the system. Based on the historical record, it is surprising that these glaciers have changed so much in recent years. The loss of ice between 2003 and 2012 is about one-third of the maximum ice that could have been lost in the Holocene before these glaciers would have retreated out of tidewater, according to Dyke. “However, it is important that we can’t be sure that the glaciers didn’t change as much as they currently are at other periods during our record,” he said. “What we can say with certainty is that if the glaciers continue to retreat just a few more kilometers, and retreat onto land, this will be unprecedented within at least the last 9,000 years, and in all likelihood, the last 130,000 years.”
Rising temperatures in the ocean and atmosphere affect glaciers around the globe, and despite its unique setting, Køge Bugt is no exception. “There’s some pretty good predictions now of what will happen to Greenland in the long run,” Dyke said.“Greenland is going to get a lot smaller. These glaciers will retreat out of the water, and how quickly that happens really depends on how warm the atmosphere and the oceans get. And that’s something that ultimately we have control over.”
The impacts of climate change on glaciers and other landscapes are often hard to conceptualize, making it difficult for scientists to convey the urgency of these changes to the general public. This difficulty is being addressed by photographers like Danish artist Carston Egevang and American Diane Tuft, who are taking action through visual image to show the effects of climate change on different landscapes, wildlife and people around the world. Photographers interested in this subject matter aim to convince their audience that climate change is real, according to a new report by Carolyn Beans in PNAS. Rather than reading numbers and graphs, the public is able to look at a photograph and visualize the negative results of temperature rise on the environment.
With disappearing glaciers a prominent symbol of global warming, glacial retreat photography is one way to monitor the effects of climate change around the world. Egevang, who began his career as a biologist, completing a Ph.D. in Arctic biology at the University of Copenhagen, first began taking photographs at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources as part of his research. Egevang’s transition from science to photography was largely due to his desire to share his scientific observations of environmental change with a larger community, according to the report. One series of his photographs shows the reactions of Arctic people to a hunter’s polar bear trophy, a unique capture and sight in the town of Ittoqqortoormiit on the eastern coast of Greenland, made possible by dwindling sea ice and a change in the animal’s hunting behaviors.
“Arctic photographers bring climate change into focus,” Egevang said in an interview with Beans. “With photography, I really feel that I get the attention of a very large crowd.” Climate projections may not move people, he continued, “but when you show the local hunters, how they can’t do what they usually do because there is no sea ice and it is happening so rapidly, it is much easier to understand.” His work captures the lives of people in Greenland, who are greatly impacted by climate change, and the animals that sustain their livelihoods. As temperatures rise, the landscape has changed, forcing the animals to shift their patterns of movement. Hunters are not able to reach their usual hunting grounds because the sea ice isn’t thick enough to hold the weight of their sleds, for example.“With photography, I really feel that I get the attention of a very large crowd,” he said.
Egevang is not the only photographer dedicated to showing environmental change. James Balog created the Extreme Ice Survey program, a photography program that combines art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystem. The program consists of him and his team placing cameras in different locations around the world to view cliff faces and track changes in glaciers through time-lapse photography. As of January 2016, Balog and his team have placed 43 Nikon cameras tracking 24 glaciers across Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Canada, Austria, and the Rocky Mountains.
The cameras take images of the changing landscape every hour, year-round, and during daylight, producing about 8,000 frames per camera per year. The time-lapse photographs show the incredible transformations of the glaciers. The images are then made into time-lapse videos that display the landscape’s retreat due to climate change and other human activity. The work of Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey team was also recognized in the 2012 award-winning documentary called Chasing Ice.
Diane Tuft, a New York-based photographer, has also worked on projects that show the melting ice in the Arctic Ocean by taking aerial views of the mountain glaciers of Svalbard, Norway. When asked about her images, Diane told GlacierHub, “Through my work as an artist, I feel that I need to communicate to a broad audience the dire effects that the melt in the Arctic will cause throughout our planet. By exposing the public to the emotion and beauty in my images, I hope to stimulate conversation about how to save the Arctic, and thus save the Earth from the drastic repercussions of ocean rise.” Two of Tuft’s photographs, for example, when placed side by side, demonstrate a striking contrast between the size of the Greenland Ice Sheet in 2007 and its gradual shrinking by 2016.
Another photographer, Kerry Koepping, has traveled from the glaciers of Northern Greenland to Iceland to emphasize the urgent consequences of climate change. Koepping’s photographs reach the scientific community as well, due to his research affiliate at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. Koepping’s position allows him to stay up to date with climate change research, while adding observations from his own work. As founder and project director of Arctic Arts Project, Koepping and other photographers use their photography skills to help people understand the science behind climate change through imagery. Koepping’s work spans from photos of ice caps breaking off the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland to the ice recession of the VantnJökull ice cave in Iceland.
Collaborations between scientists and photographers bring to life the facts and results of climate change science. It allows the photographers to convey a concept that is hard to grasp, provoking the audience’s emotions to help them understand the harsh truth of environmental change.