Greenland’s ice sheet is thickening, according to a new study, which also notes ice is moving more slowly towards the ice sheet’s edge than it has, on average, over the last 9,000 years.
“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,” Joe MacGregor, the study’s lead author and a geophysicist at The University of Texas in Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, said in a statement.
MacGregor and his fellow authors created a database mapping the layers of Greenland’s ice sheet and flow patterns over the last 9,000 years. Using this “paleo-velocity” scientists found ice from Greenland’s interior is flowing to the edges more slowly than it did during most of time in the past nine millennia.
So, what’s slowing the ice down? Researchers said Greenland was hit with much softer snow during the last ice age, which has stiffened over time and caused the ice to flow more slowly towards its edges — all of this has caused the ice sheet to thicken over thousands of years.
Southern Greenland has seen lots of thickening because of increased snowfall, according to researchers, but that’s not the cause of thickening for other parts of the ice sheet where snowfall isn’t increasing.
“But that didn’t explain what was happening elsewhere in Greenland, particularly the northwest, where there isn’t as much snowfall, so the stiffening effect isn’t as important,” said MacGregor, adding that the northwest is getting thicker because of the collapse of an ice bridge 10,000 years ago.
Despite their findings of Greenland’s slower ice flow, the researchers claim this doesn’t “change the fact that the ice sheet is losing mass overall and contributing to sea level rise,” according to the study’s press release.
For decades, scientists and environmentalists have warned Greenland is melting at an alarming rate because of man-made global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nation’s climate bureaucracy, says there’s “very high confidence that the Greenland ice sheet has lost ice and contributed to sea level rise over the last two decades.”
But the IPCC also claims Antarctica’s ice sheet — the largest in the world — is losing mass. The international body said “there is high confidence that the Antarctic ice sheet is currently losing mass” in its 2013 climate report.
New research, however, directly contradicted the IPCC’s claims. A NASA study from last year found Antarctica’s ice sheet had increased in size from 1992 to 2008. In fact, scientists said the South Pole has been thickening from increased snowfall over the last thousand years.
“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” Jay Zwally, a NASA glaciologist and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
“Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica — there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas,” Zwally said.
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