Researchers from The Earth Institute at Columbia University have published a finding titled “Glacier Response to North Atlantic Climate Variability during the Holocene” in the journal Climate of the Past suggesting that glaciers in Greenland moved back very swiftly within the last 9,500 years.
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The finding also reveals how glaciers respond to sudden episodes of cooling and warming that could last as much as several decades, underscoring the fact that glaciers are responsive to temperatures.
The researchers carried out part of their study by analyzing sediment cores lakes that got fed by glaciers in the past around southeastern Greenland; these were compared to other cores obtained from Iceland and the Baffin Island of Canada.
"Two things are happening," said study co-author William D'Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "One is you have a very gradual decrease in the amount of sunlight hitting high latitudes in the summer.
“If that were the only thing happening, we would expect these glaciers to very slowly be creeping forward, forward, forward. But then we come along and start burning fossil fuels and adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and glaciers that would still be growing start to melt back because summer temperatures are warmer," D’Andrea added.
Sediment cores are generated when glaciers grind on bedrock beneath them, producing silt that washes away to sea or lakes when meltwater from the glacier melts and flows. Thus was the sediment below the Kulusuk Lake formed some 9,500 years ago.
A thorough analysis of the glacier movements within the last 100 years is indicative of how far glaciers moved in the past 8,000 years – and this moving event occurred twice within the last century relative to what happened in the past 9,500 years.
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Scientists estimate that the glaciers melted and possibly disappeared some 7,000 to 4,000 years ago; but may have started to build back again some 4,000 years back, revealing its sensitivity to series of environmental changes. The researchers hinge the importance of their findings to understanding present, past, and future sea level rises and how they impact on our world and existence as a planet.