How do glaciers react to climate change?

How do glaciers react to climate change?

"Where the Glacier meets the sky, the land stops being of this earth and becomes celestial” the Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness wrote in his novel Light of the World. This unique experience of seeing glacier and sky melt together is part of every Icelanders experience, however, considering current changes in nature it will probably not remain so for future generations.

 
Guðfinna Aðalgeirsdóttir, Associate Professor of glaciology is currently studying glaciers that are retreating fast. She has travelled far in her research and not limited it to our native glaciers. She has flown over all the main glaciers of Alaska and performed laser altitude measurements to evaluate how fast the glaciers there are melting. She has been to the Antarctic to acquaint herself with the behaviour of the ice there and its melting. She carried out some very detailed research in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey.
 
“Our work in the Antarctic concerns understanding the flow of ice, how it collapses under its own weight and is deformed,” says Aðalgeirsdóttir. “We perform precise measurements using radar equipment on the surface of the ice and receive them back when they have penetrated the top layers.”
 
Aðalgeirsdóttir says that satellite measurements indicate that the Antarctic ice is melting and that large ice-sheets have broken up and disappeared in recent years. “It is therefore very important to understand the changes that are taking place so that some predictions may be made on how sea levels will change in coming years.”According to Aðalgeirsdóttir the project is very interesting and exciting – she did not hesitate when her colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey contacted her and offered her participation. 
 
Aðalgeirsdóttir adds that the first measurements in this area were carried out last year, “… and now we are back in the same place, trying to repeat them as accurately as possible to measure the vertical deformation of the ice in fissures in the ice sheet.”
It is great to travel so far south when the days are so short in the Northern Hemisphere. “This shortens the winter; the sun shines 24 / 7 down here at around 78° south. We have a 360° view of utter whiteness. In the distance the Ellsworth Mountains can be seen where the highest summit of the Antarctic, Vinson Massif, rises to around 4,892 metres,” Aðalgeirsdóttir said when she talked to the Magazine of the University of Iceland from the scientists’ camp in the Antarctic.
 
Aðalgeirsdóttir is an experienced researcher having worked at the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen for the last six years. At the institute she worked on connecting atmospheric- and glacial models to predict the rate and extent of the melting of the Greenland Glacier in the near future.
 
The research in the Antarctic is partly based on the experience from Greenland, says Aðalgeirsdóttir. “The spark for the Antarctic project is a similar project in Greenland, where it has become apparent that variables describing ice flow are much higher than those measured in laboratories. The research in Greenland was the first attempt at making such precise measurements on the sinking of the ice in natural circumstances. Therefore it was decided to perform similar measurements on fissures in the ice sheet in the Antarctic to make comparable measurements there.”
 
Aðalgeirsdóttir says that the study in the Antarctic may impact predictions on how glaciers will react to climate change in the future. “The conclusions will improve our knowledge of ice flow and may change the variables used in future ice flow models.”
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