Greenland Glacier Nearly Triples Speed in Less than Two Decades

Dramatic Discovery Confirms Scientists’ Predictions of Accelerated Global Warming

Media release - July 21, 2005
Independent scientists onboard 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 about impacts to Greenland glaciers from recent global warming.

A glaciologist from the University of Maine sets up monitoring equipment on the Kangerdlussuaq Glacier in Greenland to measure the rate at which the glacier is moving.

Outlet glaciers like Kangerdlugssuaq transport ice from the heart of the Greenland Ice Sheet to the ocean and discharge icebergs, which contribute to sea level rise. Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier alone transports or "drains" four percent of the ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet, and so any changes in the speed of these glaciers holds tremendous significance in terms of sea level rise.

"This is a dramatic discovery," said Dr. Gordon Hamilton, who undertook the measurements on Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier on Greenland's East Coast with University of Maine PhD student Leigh Stearns.  "There is concern that the acceleration of this and similar glaciers and the associated discharge of ice is not described in current ice sheet models of the effects of climate change.  These new results suggest that the loss of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet, unless balanced by an equivalent increase in snowfall, could be larger and faster than previously estimated."

The Arctic Sunrise is in Greenland this summer documenting the signs and impacts of global warming in this part of the Arctic. The scientists from the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine are conducting an independently-funded study into glacier variations as evidence of recent global warming.

Preliminary findings indicate Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier on Greenland's East Coast could be one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world with a speed of almost nine miles per year. The measurements were made this week using high precision GPS survey methods.  In 1996, measurements made with satellite imagery revealed the glacier's speed was three miles per year.  In addition, Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier has unexpectedly receded approximately three miles since 2001 after maintaining a stable position for the past 40 years.

The Greenland Ice Sheet could melt down if regional warming exceeds about five degrees Fahrenheit.  If this were to occur, sea level would rise approximately 23 feet over a few thousand years. However, a two to four foot rise in sea level in the next century would have significant impacts on society.  More than 70 percent of the world's population lives on coastal plains, and 11 of the world's 15 largest cities are on the coast or reside near estuaries.

Greenland's ice contains over six percent of the world's fresh water. The volume of ice contained in the Kangerdlugssuaq equals four times the total volume of water in the Great Lakes.

"This discovery sounds a deafening alarm as Congress continues to spin its wheels on U.S. energy policy and global warming solutions," said Melanie Duchin, Greenpeace Climate Campaigner onboard the Arctic Sunrise.  "Anything short of real action will result in shrinking glaciers and rising sea levels, devastating U.S. coastal cities."

Other contacts: Carol Gregory 202-319-2472; 202-413-8531 (cell) Onboard the Arctic Sunrise: Dr. Gordon Hamilton and Greenpeace Expedition Leader Martina Krueger Satellite phone: 011 871 1302577, 011 871 324453810

Notes: Photo available at ftp://share.greenpeace.org id: photogreenpeace password: Pwe553sRw folder: GREENLAND Video available at ftp://share.greenpeace.org/050721-Kangerdlugssuaq_Glacier.mpg Note: file is an mpeg1 format (39.1 MB)

Exp. contact date: 2005-08-21 00:00:00