An Idaho Scientist Looks At Glaciers And Sea Level Rise In Greenland

Apr 24, 2017

An Idaho scientist is part of a team looking at Greenland’s ice sheet. It’s the Earth’s second-largest ice sheet and it’s melting, contributing to a rise in sea levels around the globe. The team’s goal was to figure out which glaciers to watch to predict how the sea level will respond in the future.

When University of Idaho geography professor Tim Bartholomaus started studying glaciers in Greenland for NASA, he thought they would be boring.

“That they’d all be the same, they just sit there, maybe they move a little bit, they melt, how interesting could this be?” he asked.

But during a three-year study, Bartholomaus and a team of international researchers found out no two glaciers are alike.

“They all have totally different shapes. Some glaciers are 300-feet thick, other glaciers are a half mile thick,” Bartholomaus says.

He discovered that uniqueness is why some glaciers are thinning and melting, while others are more stable. By looking at the shapes of glaciers, he came up with a method using computer programs to help figure out which glaciers are most susceptible to melting.

“When we understand how glaciers change, then we can make better predictions about how sea level is going to respond in the future and how much sea level rise are we expecting,” says Bartholomaus.

Right now, sea level is rising at one foot per hundred years. As ice sheets lose more mass, that rate of rise will likely increase.  Bartholomaus says figuring out how much the sea level is going to go up is crucial.

“Because that’s going to help planners and help all of our society anticipate, and therefore deal with, those changes that are coming,” says Bartholomaus.

The study of Greenland’s thinning glaciers was published last week in Nature Geoscience.

Credit Tim Bartholomaus / University of Idaho

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