It has been found that the glaciers in Greenland are showing signs of extreme temperature sensitivity.
The Greenland glaciers are in retreat and this quick receding effect is due to climate sensitivity. Over the past 100 years, this phenomenon has shown such variability as has not been seen in the previous 10,000 years or so of their history.
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Glaciers are pretty sensitive to changes in temperature. This much is obvious from the record. Periods of cooling and warming leave an indelible impact on glaciers. They shift their shape accordingly.
Some of these changes in temperature may have lasted no more than a decade or two, but their effect on the glacier morphology was beyond belief. In order to see how the glaciers fared over time thanks to this variability in temperature, scientists unearthed sediment cores. These were from a lake supplied by a glacier. The region was Greenland.
Similar acts were performed in Iceland and Canada. When compared, the results showed that two things were happening at one and the same time. There was a decrease in the sunlight striking high latitudes in the summer. If that alone were the case, the glaciers would be creeping forward.
But it was not as simple as this. The problem was all the fossil fuels that were being burnt by man. The addition of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere led to a melting of the glaciers. This was especially so during the summer months when temperatures reached a peak.
Glaciers are active and heavy entities. As these glaciers moved they grinded the bedrock which was existent at their base. This created silt and the meltwater washed away as a result. And the larger the size of the glacier, the more the bedrock was ground in the process.
The sediment cores obtained from beneath glaciers showed evidence of silt and organic materials in large amounts. These were signs of changes in the climate. Radiocarbon dating was used to determine the age of the materials.
"If we compare the rate that these glaciers have retreated in the last hundred years to the rate that they retreated when they disappeared between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago, we see the rate of retreat in the last 100 years was about twice what it was under this naturally forced disappearance," said study co-author William D'Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
The experiments proved that the glaciers were getting smaller with time. There was an increase in organic matter too. The glaciers expanded and contracted and finally about 100 years ago the industrial revolution led to their shrinkage.
The risk of all that melt-water rising up in the form of floods and tsunamis on the shores was there alright. And this could actually be a very real scenario in the near future.
Other authors of this study are Nicholas Balascio (lead author), an assistant professor at the College of William & Mary who worked on the study as a postdoctoral researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; and Raymond Bradley, a professor at the University of Massachusetts.
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This study got published in Climate of the Past, an interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union.