Surface melting causes Antarctic glaciers to slip faster towards the ocean, new research shows | 4/28/2016 | Staff
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Surface meltwater draining through the ice and beneath Antarctic glaciers is causing sudden and rapid accelerations in their flow towards the sea, according to new research.

This is the first time scientists have found that melting on the surface impacts the flow of glaciers in Antarctica.

Imagery - Data - Satellites - Climate - Modeling

Using imagery and data from satellites alongside regional climate modeling, scientists at the University of Sheffield have found that meltwater is causing some glaciers to move at speeds 100 percent faster than average (up to 400m per year) for a period of several days multiple times per year.

Glaciers move downhill due to gravity via the internal deformation of ice, and basal sliding—where they slide over the ground beneath them, lubricated by liquid water.

Research - Today - Nature - Communications - Accelerations

The new research, published today in Nature Communications, shows that accelerations in Antarctic Peninsula glaciers' movements coincide with spikes in snowmelt. This association occurs because surface meltwater penetrates to the ice bed and lubricates glacier flow.

The scientists expect that as temperatures continue to rise in the Antarctic, surface melting will occur more frequently and across a wider area, making it an important factor in determining the speed at which glaciers move towards the sea.

Glaciers - Antarctic - Peninsula - Greenland - Alaska

Ultimately, they predict that glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula will behave like those in present-day Greenland and Alaska, where meltwater controls the size and timing of variations in glacier flow across seasons and years.

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