Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Complex systems influence melting of Greenland ice sheet

International research team’s field work shows that, well, things are more complicated than we thought
December 22, 2014
The newly discovered rolling movement shown in (A) three-dimensional cryo-electron microscopy image of ribosome, and (B) computer-generated atomic-resolution model of the human ribosome consistent with microscopy.

An international team of researchers deployed to western Greenland to study the melt rates of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

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“Like loosening the seal of a bathtub drain, the hydrologic changes that occur each summer may cause isolated pockets of pressurized water to slowly drain out from under the ice sheet, resulting in more friction,” said Hoffman.

Complex systems influence melting of Greenland ice sheet

An international research team’s fieldwork, drilling and measuring melt rates and ice sheet movement in Greenland is showing that things are, in fact, more complicated than we thought.

Although the Greenland Ice Sheet initially speeds up each summer in its slow-motion race to the sea, the network of meltwater channels beneath the sheet is not necessarily forming the slushy racetrack that had been previously considered.

Observations of moulins (vertical conduits connecting water on top of the glacier down to the bed of the ice sheet) and boreholes in Greenland show that subglacial channels ameliorate the speedup caused by water delivery to the base of the ice sheet in the short term.

By mid summer, however, the channels stabilize and are unable to grow any larger.

The researchers’ observations identify a previously unrecognized role of changes in hydraulically isolated regions of the bed in controlling evolution of subglacial drainage over summer.


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