This Fastest Moving Glacier On The Planet Is Telling Us A Whole Lot About Climate Change

Jakobshavn glacier. Photo Ian Joughin/The Cryosphere

The Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland has been clocked as the fastest in the world.

The glacier hit a speed of more than 17 kilometres per year, or over 46 metres per day, the fastest recorded.

“We are now seeing summer speeds more than 4 times what they were in the 1990s,” says Ian Joughin, a researcher at the Polar Science Center, University of Washington.

The speedup means the glacier is adding more and more ice to the ocean, contributing to sea-level rise.

“We know that from 2000 to 2010 this glacier alone increased sea level by about 1 mm. With the additional speed it likely will contribute a bit more than this over the next decade,” Joughin says.

The Jakobshavn glacier is widely believed to be the glacier which produced the iceberg which sank the Titanic in 1912.

Researchers from the University of Washington and the German Space Agency (DLR) measured the dramatic speeds of the fast-flowing glacier in 2012 and 2013.

The results are published today in The Cryosphere, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

At its calving front, where the glacier effectively ends as it breaks off into icebergs, some of the ice melts while the rest is pushed out, floating into the ocean. Both these processes contribute about the same amount to sea-level rise from Greenland.

As the Arctic region warms, Greenland glaciers have been thinning and calving icebergs further and further inland.

This means that, even though the glacier is flowing towards the coast and carrying more ice into the ocean, its calving front is actually retreating.

In 2012 and 2013, the front retreated more than a kilometre further inland than in previous summers, the scientists write in the new The Cryosphere study.

The calving front of the glacier is now located in a deeper area of the fjord, where the underlying rock bed is about 1300 metres below sea level, which the scientists say explains the record speeds it has achieved.

“As the glacier’s calving front retreats into deeper regions, it loses ice – the ice in front that is holding back the flow – causing it to speed up,” Joughin says.

The team used satellite data to measure the speed of the glacier as part of US National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA studies

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