London, Jan 27 (ANI): Scientists have suggested that hotter summers may not be as catastrophic for the Greenland ice sheet as previously feared and may actually slow down the flow of glaciers.
Their study explains how increased melting in warmer years causes the internal drainage system of the ice sheet to 'adapt' and accommodate more melt-water, without speeding up the flow of ice toward the oceans.
The Greenland ice sheet covers roughly 80 percent of the surface of the island and contains enough water to raise sea levels by 7 metres if it were to melt completely.
Rising temperatures in the Arctic in recent years have caused the ice sheet to shrink, prompting fears that it may be close to a 'tipping point' of no return.
Some of the ice loss has been attributed to the speed-up of glaciers due to increased surface melting. Each summer, warmer temperatures cause ice at the surface of the sheet to melt. This water then runs down a series of channels to the base of the glacier where it acts as a lubricant, allowing the ice sheet to flow rapidly across the bedrock toward the sea.
"It had been thought that more surface melting would cause the ice sheet to speed up and retreat faster, but our study suggests that the opposite could in fact be true," said lead author Professor Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment.
The researchers used satellite observations of six landlocked glaciers in south-west Greenland, acquired by the European Space Agency, to study how ice flow develops in years of markedly different melting.
Although the initial speed-up of ice was similar in all years, slowdown occurred sooner in the warmest ones. The authors suggest that in these years the abundance of melt-water triggers an early switch in the plumbing at the base of the ice, causing a pressure drop that leads to reduced ice speeds.
The research was published in Nature on 27 January. (ANI)