Modelling Indicates Future Shift in Melting Pattern of the Greenland Ice Sheet

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Surface melting is expected to increase in significance. Photo: Russavia

Surface melting is expected to increase in significance. Photo: Russavia

To try and find clues to future change, scientists rely heavily on computer modelling of the current ice caps.

The most recent study, based on research from four glaciers, was able to integrate the latest techniques and information into modelling the possible future of the GrIS.

Our models are intended to improve estimates of “most likely” contributions to sea-level rise using the best physics-based models we can develop, tied to specific emissions scenarios,” the study’s co-author, Professor David Vaughan told Decoded Science.

The study found that the nature of melting is likely to shift. We know that the ice sheet is melting and that the main source of that ice is at present equally split between melting on the surface of the sheet and loss of ice from the ‘calving’ of icebergs from the noses of glaciers. The new model demonstrates that the balance between these processes is likely to shift, with the surface melting becoming increasingly important.

Currently, the ice sheet is responding to changes in the atmosphere and the ocean, but the present paper says that, while the ocean continues to have an influence, by 2100 the atmospheric changes will dominate,” explained Professor Vaughan.

Ice Dynamics: Looking to the Future

Although the study shows a shift in ice dynamics, it does not make any significant changes to the projections of the rate of sea level change produced by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), although it does suggest that rates of melting will increase during the 22nd century.

The significance of the results, according to Professor Vaughan, lies in the methodology.

They have, he believes, produced “a model that is streets ahead on anything used to project Greenland changes than previously used…. It’s just a much better simulation of nature than previously delivered, it shows what is currently going on in the ice sheet and what will happen in the future with more clarity and reliability than ever before.

Sources

Goelzer, H. et al Sensitivity of Greenland ice sheet projections to model formulations. (2013). Journal of Glaciology. Accessed 10 July 2013.

NSIDC. Quick facts on ice sheets. Accessed 10 July 2013.

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