Feb 3, 2020

Scientists find another threat to Greenland's glaciers lurking beneath the ice

Gisela Crespo
Melting glaciers from climate change
Torrential meltwater streams making their way toward the ocean. Credit: CNN

Signals Summary: Climate change is warming oceans which is accelerating ice sheet and glacier melt and leading to sea level rise.  

Article Excerpt: Scientists have long known that higher air temperatures are contributing to the surface melting on Greenland's ice sheet.

But a new study has found another threat that has begun attacking the ice from below: Warm ocean water moving underneath the vast glaciers is causing them to melt even more quickly.


The survey revealed an underwater current more than a mile wide where warm water from the Atlantic Ocean is able to flow directly towards the glacier, bringing large amounts of heat into contact with the ice and accelerating the glacier's melting.

"The reason for the intensified melting is now clear," said Janin Schaffer, an oceanographer from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany who led the team of researchers, in a release about the findings.

The scientists also found a similar current flowing near another of Greenland's glaciers, where a large ice tongue had recently broken off into the ocean.

Mass loss from Greenland's ice sheet is currently the single largest driver of sea level rise globally, and according to a study published in December in the journal Nature, Greenland's ice sheet is currently melting seven times faster than it was in 1992.

This ice sheet holds enough water to raise global sea levels by more than 24 feet.


Warmer oceans as a result of the climate crisis also make extreme weather events such as hurricanes capable of producing more rainfall.

And ocean heat impacts the stability of sea life, which could lead to declining fish catches in many parts of the world dependent on the ocean as a primary food source.