Greenland. The Giant Stirs, ever So Slightly.
July 16, 2012
When writing The dark side of Greenland, a recent blog post on decreasing reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet, with images comparing the southwest of Greenland with satellite images from previous years, I of course realized that when that ice sheet becomes less reflective, it will soak up more solar energy and thus melt faster. But the practical aspect of this theory never really dawned on me, until I saw this video:
Levels in the Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua river, also knows as the Watson river, have reached such heights that they have smashed the two bridges connecting the north and south of Kangerlussuaq, a small settlement in southwestern Greenland, located at the head of the fjord of the same name. The river water stems from different meltwater outflow streams from Russell Glacier (an outflow of the Greenland ice sheet), and is a tributary of Qinnguata Kuussua, the main river in the Kangerlussuaq area.
Of course the local media are covering the story. Here are a few excerpts from different news articles from Sermitsiaq (via Google translate):
What has happened in detail over the inland ice, which caused this incident, is not yet known, but the fierce heat has certainly been an important player. And unfortunately it looks like the weather will not come to the Greenlanders’ rescue, as the air temperatures over the ice sheet are expected to remain warmer than normal at least the next 7-10 days, writes Greenland meteorological Jesper Eriksen at dmi.dk.
However, it’s not only hot on the icecap at Kangerlussuaq. Deep in the ice, there are also plus degrees:
In Greenland, it has been very hot over the inland ice in comparison to normal conditions. On July 11th at 15 UTC the recorded temperature at the Summit Camp weather station, which is located at the ice cap’s highest altitude (3200 metres), was 2.2 degrees Celsius. That is quite high for this height, particularly in light of the fact that ice has a relatively high albedo.
Just 2.2 °C doesn’t sound like much (although it looks to be a new record for July), until one realises that we are talking Summit Camp here. At an altitude of 3200 metres. In the middle of the Greenland ice sheet. Nothing but ice.
3.5 million liters of water pressed through the narrow river every second. It’s almost a doubling of previous records. It’s no wonder that a 20 ton wheel loader was torn away from the bridge in Kangerlussuaq like a toy.
Dr. Mauri Pelto sent me a link to that video – here:
More Below – Petermann Glacier Calves Again.
Petermann Glacier has calved another large ice island, about half the size of the calving of two years ago, which amounts to about two Manhattans.
This is what it looks like:
This second big calving (spotted this time by Arcticicelost80) is another spectacular event on Greenland this year, following retreats of the Jakobshavn Glacier and lowest reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet on record (see blog post), leading to unprecedented flooding in the southwest of Greenland. This calving was expected to happen, as the rift in the glacier has been there for years (see this thorough explanation by glacier expert Mauri Pelto).
From the Icy Seas blog:
This morning Petermann Glacier lost another ice island of a size comparable to what it lost in 2010:
This second big calving in as many years doesn’t come as a surprise, as attested by this article on the New York Times blog from August last year:
Thanks to satellites and other instruments, researchers do know what is happening to ocean and air temperatures in northwest Greenland. They have been warming briskly of late, as global-warming theory predicted decades ago that they would for the whole Arctic.
Dr. Box (Jason Box of Byrd Polar Center at Ohio State) finds a drastic increase in sea-surface temperatures in the region, and a sharp decline in sea ice. Scientists suspect that warmer water is circulating under Greenland’s floating ice shelves and causing them to weaken. But given the dearth of measurements from beneath Petermann, they do not have hard proof that is what happened in this case.
The breakup of the Petermann ice shelf fits into a broader picture. Many lines of evidence suggest that melting and breakup of Greenland ice, a phenomenon once concentrated on the southern end of that island, has spread to the colder northwest corner. As I reported last year, many scientists are worried about the overall fate of the Greenland ice sheet, especially the prospect that its melting could raise global sea levels substantially.
Dr. Box said another chunk of the Petermann Glacier, this one about twice the size of Manhattan, is now on the verge of breaking loose.
Dr. Box was right.