Assessing the influence of Alaska glaciers is slippery work

May 27, 2011

With an estimated 34,000 square miles of ice, an area about the size of Maine, Alaska's multitude of glaciers have a global impact.

Anthony Arendt, an assistant research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, has outlined the complexity and influence of Alaska glaciers in this week's issue of the journal Science. In his article, Arendt explains the importance of integrating field observations and more precise glacier simulation models.

"We have used satellites to measure the mass changes of all of Alaska's glaciers, but there are also many glaciers that need to be measured in the field," Arendt said. "We need these field observations to better understand the processes that are controlling glacier changes."

Glacial patterns are difficult to predict — even for current computer models. Alaska glaciers often behave independently of one another. They retreat and surge, and are subject to volcanic and oceanic influences, in addition to changes in precipitation and warming temperatures. Data collected in the field will help refine existing models, so that a more accurate picture of changing can be drawn.

"Alaska glaciers have been losing mass more rapidly since the mid-1990s than they were several decades earlier," Arendt states in the article. "Understanding whether this trend continues will require an integration of observations across disciplines, as well as the development of robust glacier simulation models."

According to Arendt, glaciers and ice caps make up a mere three percent of the ice on our planet, yet they account for about half of the sea level contribution. These dynamic chunks of ice are tremendously influential on future coastlines.

"There are many people living very close to the sea in areas where even a small change in sea level would be devastating," Arendt said. "Developing countries don't have the resources to deal with this change."

To create the best sea level forecasts, Arendt said that scientists need to use to fill data gaps in current models. With thousands of in , scientists have much more work to do, he said, noting that the research will ultimately help the global community better adapt to sea level change.

Explore further: Image: Grand Canyon geology lessons on view

More information: www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6033/1044.full

Related Stories

Scientists expect increased melting of mountain glaciers

Jan 20, 2006

Sea level rise due to increased melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice caps will be much lower in the 21st Century than previously estimated. However, decay of mountain glaciers in due to global warming will be much more ...

Warming oceans threaten Antarctic glaciers

Mar 15, 2007

Scientists have identified four Antarctic glaciers that pose a threat to future sea levels using satellite observations, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Recommended for you

Image: Grand Canyon geology lessons on view

5 hours ago

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is a favorite for astronauts shooting photos from the International Space Station, as well as one of the best-known tourist attractions in the world. The steep walls of ...

First radar vision for Copernicus

5 hours ago

Launched on 3 April, ESA's Sentinel-1A satellite has already delivered its first radar images of Earth. They offer a tantalising glimpse of the kind of operational imagery that this new mission will provide ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.