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Study confirms link between global warming, glacial retreat in Greenland

If Greenland's Ice Sheet were to melt completely, the world's oceans would rise by an average of 23 feet.

By
Brooks Hays
Over longer time-scales, the correlation between global warming and glacial retreat along the Greenland coast remains strong. Photo by University of St. Andrews
Over longer time-scales, the correlation between global warming and glacial retreat along the Greenland coast remains strong. Photo by University of St. Andrews

July 17 (UPI) -- As the planet warms, Greenland's glaciers are retreating, and their melting is likely to accelerate sea level rise, new research confirms.

The relationship between the air, ocean water and glaciers along the coast of Greenland is dynamic. The highly variable nature of glacial behavior can complicate scientists' ability to model ice loss and sea level rise.

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But while glacial movement can appear erratic or contradictory over short periods of time, the latest results of a 20-year survey suggest a strong link between rising temperatures and glacial retreat.

Scientists hope their new research, published this week in the journal PNAS, will help climate scientists develop more accurate sea level rise prediction models.

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The discrepancy between glacial shifts in southeast and northeast Greenland remains one of the major hangups for scientists studying the island's ice. Between 2000 and 2005, rising atmospheric temperatures in the region triggered rapid retreat among glaciers along Greenland's southeast coast. During the same period, northeastern glaciers remained relatively stable.

The latest research suggests unusually cold water along the northeast coast helped slow melting and prevent a rapid retreat.

Because a glacier's structural integrity is dictated by temperature dynamics both above and below the ocean surface, predicting each glacier's behavior remains a complicated process. However, scientists believe the latest findings will improve glacial models.

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"While we cannot predict the detailed retreat of individual glaciers, our findings enable us to approximate likely retreat rates based on air and ocean warming scenarios," Tom Cowton, a glaciologist at the University of St. Andrews, said in a news release. "This information can then be fed into the large scale ice sheet models that are used to predict sea level rise."

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