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Greenland study aids sea level forecasts

Sea level forecasts could become more accurate, thanks to a study of how melting ice in summer affects glacier movement.

Scientists studying the Greenland ice sheet have revealed a close link between ice movement and summer ice melt.

In summer, surface meltwater drains to the bed of the ice sheet, enabling it to slide quickly towards the sea - at times, more than twice as fast in summer compared with winter.

If summers continue to become longer and warmer, glacier acceleration caused by meltwater will reach further inland, drawing down ice from a larger area of the ice sheet.

Better predictions

Scientists say this ice movement, which is similar to that found in Alpine glaciers, demonstrates that the ice sheet is highly sensitive to changes in climate.

The study will give scientists more information to help improve predictions of sea level rise in response to climate change.

The research, involving scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen, Aberystwyth and Newcastle, used satellite receivers and climatic sensors to track a 35km section on the western edge of the ice sheet.

Sliding ice

Their findings showed how changes in surface meltwaters controlled the movement of waters underneath the ice sheet and the rate at which the ice slid over its bed.

The study, supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, the University of Edinburgh Moss Centenary Scholarship and a University of Edinburgh Small Project Grant, was published in Nature Geoscience.

We now have a better understanding of how the ice sheet responds dynamically to changes in air temperature. This study, when incorporated into numerical models, should help improve our projections of sea level rise in response to climate change.

Dr Peter NienowSchool of GeoSciences