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: New study confirms water vapor as global warming amplifier

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

New research reveals Pele is powerful, even in the sky

1 hour ago

One might assume that a tropical storm moving through volcanic smog (vog) would sweep up the tainted air and march on, unchanged. However, a recent study from atmospheric scientists at the University of Hawai'i ...

Image: Wildfires continue near Yellowknife, Canada

1 hour ago

The wildfires that have been plaguing the Northern Territories in Canada and have sent smoke drifting down to the Great Lakes in the U.S. continue on. NASA's Aqua satellite collected this natural-color image ...

Excavated ship traced to Colonial-era Philadelphia

3 hours ago

Four years ago this month, archeologists monitoring the excavation of the former World Trade Center site uncovered a ghostly surprise: the bones of an ancient sailing ship. Tree-ring scientists at Columbia ...

Tropical tempests take encouragement from environment

4 hours ago

Mix some warm ocean water with atmospheric instability and you might have a recipe for a cyclone. Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Atlanta Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory ...

User comments : 0