Three glaciers -- Helheim, Kangerdlugssuaq and Jakobshavn Isbrae -- account for as much as one-fifth of the ice flowing out from Greenland into the ocean, researchers at Ohio State University said.
Greenland is the second-largest holder of ice on the planet, and its hundreds of glaciers are a natural laboratory for studying how climate change has affected these ice fields, a university release said Tuesday.
OSU researchers have studied the "mass balance" of glaciers, the rate of new ice being formed as snow falls vs. the flow of ice out into the sea.
In the last decade, Jakobshavn Isbrae has lost enough ice to equal 11 years' worth of normal snow accumulation, approximately 300 gigatons (300 billion tons) of ice, researchers said. The findings were similar at the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier.
"Kangerdlugssuaq would have to stop flowing and accumulate snowfall for seven years to regain the ice it has lost," OSU professor of earth sciences Ian Howat said.
The new techniques Howat and his colleagues developed will provide scientists a more accurate idea of exactly how much ice is being lost, OSU said.
"These glaciers change pretty quickly. They speed up and then slow down. There's a pulsing in the flow of ice," Howat said. "There's variability, a seasonal cycle and lots of different changes in the rate that ice is flowing through these glaciers."