Greenland glacier almost triples speed in less than two decades

"Dramatic discovery" confirms scientists' predictions of accelerated impact of climate change

Press release - 21 July, 2005
Independent scientists on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise yesterday discovered that a Greenland glacier has accelerated in the past nine years, exceeding all expectations, and has now become one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world. These observations validate predictions of the response of Greenland glaciers to recent climate change.

The Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise is pictured surrounded by ice debris from the collapsed glacier seen in the background.Greenpeace is currently in the Kangerdlussuaq Fjord in Greenland which until a few years ago was filled with a massive glacier. The glacier retreated 5 km in the last few years due to global warming. Greenpeace with scientists are documenting evidence of climate change in Greenland during the summer 2005.

The Greenpeacevessel Arctic Sunrise is in Greenland this summer, documenting thesigns and impacts of climate change in this part of the Arctic. Thescientists from the Climate Change Institute at the University ofMaine, USA, are conducting an independently-funded study into glaciervariations as evidence of recent climate change.

Preliminary findings indicate Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier on Greenland'seast coast could be one of the fastest moving glaciers in the worldwith a speed of almost 14 kilometres per year. The measurements weremade this week using high precision GPS survey methods. The resultswere compared with measurements made with satellite imagery thatrevealed the glacier's speed was five kilometres per year in1988.  In addition, Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier unexpectedly recededapproximately five kilometres since 2001 after maintaining a stableposition for the past 40 years.

Outlet glaciers like Kangerdlugssuaq transport ice from the heart ofthe Greenland Ice Sheet to the ocean and discharge icebergs whichcontribute to sea level rise. Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier alone transportsor "drains" four percent of the ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet, andso any changes in the speed of these glaciers holds tremendoussignificance in terms of sea level rise.

"This is a dramatic discovery," said Dr. Gordon Hamilton, who undertookthe measurements on Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier on Greenland's east coastwith University of Maine PhD student Leigh Stearns.  "There isconcern that the acceleration of this and similar glaciers and theassociated discharge of ice is not described in current ice sheetmodels of the effects of climate change.

These new results suggest that the loss of ice from the Greenland IceSheet, unless balanced by an equivalent increase in snowfall, could belarger and faster than previously estimated," said Dr. Hamilton.

"As the warming trend migrates north, glaciers at higher latitudes inGreenland might also respond in the same way as KangerdlugssuaqGlacier.  In turn, this could have serious implications for therate of sea level rise," said Dr. Hamilton.

The Greenland Ice Sheet could melt down if regional warming exceedsabout three degrees Celsius. If this were to occur, sea level wouldrise approximately seven meters over a few thousand years. However,half a meter to one meter rise in sea level in the next century wouldhave significant impacts on society. More than 70 percent of theworld's population lives on coastal plains, and 11 of the world's 15largest cities are on the coast or estuaries.

"Greenland's shrinking glaciers are sending an urgent warning to theworld that action is needed now to stop climate change," said MartinaKrueger, Greenpeace Expedition Leader on board the ArcticSunrise.  "How many more urgent warnings does the BushAdministration need before it takes meaningful action on climatechange?" said Krueger.

Other contacts: On board the Arctic SunriseDr. Gordon Hamilton and Greenpeace Expedition Leader Martina KruegerSatellite phone: + 871 1302577, +871 324453810Steve Sawyer, Greenpeace International climate campaigner (Amsterdam) +31-6-5350-4715Media office in Washington DC Susan Cavanagh +31 621296910Greenpeace photo desk +31 653819255Greenpeace video production +31 653504721

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Exp. contact date: 2006-07-21 00:00:00