Greenland glacier hits record speed

Ilulissat Icefjord Jakobshavn is located at the eastern end of the Ilulissat Icefjord (seen here), Greenland

In summer, the Jakobshavn Glacier – widely thought to have spawned the iceberg that sank the Titanic – is moving about four times faster than it was in the 1990s.

The Greenland Ice Sheet has seen record melting in recent years and would raise sea levels 6m were it all to vanish.

Details of the research are published in The Cryosphere journal.

Ian Joughin and Ben Smith of the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center in Seattle analysed pictures from the German TerraSAR-X satellites to measure the speed of the glacier.

“As the glacier moves we can track changes between images to produce maps of the ice flow velocity,” said Dr Joughin, the study’s lead author.

In the summer of 2012, the glacier reached a record speed of more than 17km per year – more than 46m per day.

“We are now seeing summer speeds more than four times what they were in the 1990s on a glacier which at that time was believed to be one of the fastest, if not the fastest, glacier in Greenland,” Ian Joughin explained.

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National Geographic

A photo of the Jakobshavn Glacier.

Chunks of ice litter the ocean in front of Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier.

PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL SOUDERS

Jane J. Lee

National Geographic

Published February 4, 2014

A Greenland glacier named Jakobshavn Isbrae, which many believe spawned the iceberg that sank the Titanic, has hit record speeds in its race to the ocean. Some may be tempted to call it the king of the glacier world, but this speedy river of ice is nothing to crow about.

A new study published February 3 in the journal Cryosphere finds that Jakobshavn’s averaged annual speed in 2012 and 2013 was nearly three times its rate in the 1990s. Its flow rate during the summer months was even faster.

“We are now seeing summer speeds more than four times what they were in the 1990s on a glacier which at that time was believed to be one of the fastest, if not the fastest, glaciers in Greenland,” Ian Joughin, a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the BBC.

In summer 2012, Jakobshavn reached speeds of about 150 feet (46 meters) per day.

Other glaciers may periodically flow faster than Jakobshavn, but Greenland’s most well known glacier is the bellwether of climate change in the region and likely contributes more to sea-level rise than any other glacier in the Northern Hemisphere—as much as 4 percent of the global total, Joughin and his colleagues found in an earlier study. (Read about glacial meltdown in National Geographic magazine.)

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