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A comparison of Greenland ice sheet models shows that while the surface mass balance is most realistic in the most complex models, simpler and faster models compare fairly well.

Effects of global warming visible for tens of thousands of years

Effects of global warming visible for tens of thousands of years Anonymous (not verified) Mon, 11/16/2020 - 13:50 Effects of global warming visible for tens of thousands of years In 10,000 years the Greeland ice sheet will be gone, but what about Antarctica? Heiko Goelzer presents research for the coming millennia.

Written by Heiko Goelzer, researcher at the Bjerknes Centre and NORCE

Most projections of global sea level rise run until the end of this century. However, the melting of entire ice sheets is a very slow process and once the ice sheets are out of balance, it may take hundreds to thousands of years before a new equilibrium is reached.

In our new study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics, a group of researchers from Brussels and Bergen has made projections for sea level rise over the next 10,000 years, using coupled models of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the atmosphere and the ocean.

Jonas Van Breedam who led the study states: “Emissions of greenhouse gases over the next 30 to 200 years could result in a global average sea level rise of 9 to 37 metres over the next 100 centuries.” 

We made projections for sea level rise over the next 10,000 years for a series of climate scenarios ranging from a CO2 peak over the next 30 years to the emission of most available CO2 reserves over the next 200 years. The highest scenario also takes into account an increased greenhouse effect when the permafrost on land and ocean floor melts and releases methane in large quantities. 

Depending on these greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels could rise by between 9.2 m and 37.4 m in 10,000 years. The Greenland ice sheet disappears completely in all scenarios, while the Antarctic ice sheet remains largely intact in a low-emission scenario and could lose up to half of its mass in a high-emission scenario. It is only after 10,000 years that ice sheets come into balance with the surrounding climate and the change in sea-level falls back to a maximum of 5 cm per 100 years.

In the high-emission scenario, sea level rises by more than 1 m per century on average during the first 2,000 years. For the low-emission scenario, the rate of sea-level rise is 10 times lower for the same period, at an average of 11 cm per century. The rate of sea-level rise is thus highly dependent on the total amount of CO2 emitted. 

Our study shows that the effect of current warming on ice sheets and sea level will remain visible for thousands of years, mainly due to the long response times of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets adjusting to a change in climate conditions.

Sea level rise
Contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet, the Greenland ice sheet, the expansion of ocean water and mountain glaciers to global sea level for a low-emission scenario (MMCP2.6) and a very high-emission scenario (MMCP-feedback). 

Reference

Van Breedam, J., Goelzer, H., and Huybrechts, P.: Semi-equilibrated global sea-level change projections for the next 10 000 years, Earth Syst. Dynam., 11, 953–976, https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-11-953-2020, 2020.

Demise of a glacier, uncovering a fjord

Demise of a glacier, uncovering a fjord gudrun Thu, 11/12/2020 - 14:17 Demise of a glacier, uncovering a fjord When the last ice age was over, a large glacier covering the 1000 meter deep Hardangerfjord collapsed. These events at the end of the ice age in Norway, resemble what we are about to witness in today’s Greenland.

The Hardanger region in southwestern Norway is famous for a mild climate, steep rock walls and delicious apples. Towards the end of the last ice age, things were different. Climate was frigid, too cold for humans to settle, let alone apple trees. The Hardangerfjord Glacier reached from the Hardangervidda plateau in the east, towards the island Halsnøy towards the west. These gravelly islands were themselves created a few centuries earlier, by the bulldozing force of the glacier. This Norwegian ice-age landscape reminds us of the coasts of Greenland, with impressive fjords hosting glaciers and icebergs.

A new study reveals how climate warming at the end of the last ice age caused the great glacier covering Hardanger to collapse around 11.000 years ago. The study is done by a team of scientists from the University of Bergen, the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, the University of Svalbard, Stockholm University, and the Bolin Centre for Climate Research. The findings are now published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

Among the fastest glacier retreats worldwide 

During the ice age, a large cold blanket of ice covered the British Isles, Scandinavia and parts of Russia. Norway was covered by kilometres of ice, including the Hardangerfjord. As climate warmed, the glacier in the fjord started to melt and retreat fast.

"When the ice age was over, things got quite dramatic. Temperatures rose several degrees in a matter of decades. The retreat of the Hardangerfjord Glacier was incredibly quick, actually one of the fastest lasting meltdowns of a glacier that we know of," says Henning Åkesson, who has lead the study.

Henning Åkesson.
Henning Åkesson, foto: Ellen Viste

Åkesson is a post-doctoral researcher at Stockholm University, previously at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre. The study gives new insights into how the Hardangerfjord Glacier vanished, and is the result of a close collaboration between glaciologists, geologists and climate scientists.

Through computer simulations, the scientists have reconstructed a detailed picture of the rapid melting. The glacier reacted strongly to the climate warming when the last ice age ended, and retreated 125 km over a period of 500 years, giving a mean long-term retreat rate of 250 metres per year. The retreat was a combination of melting at the surface and by the warming fjord waters, and iceberg calving.

This is similar to what is measured in the fjords of Greenland today, as a result of global warming.

The submarine landscape controls the speed

"When temperatures rise, glaciers melt. This is obvious, but the pace of retreat can vary greatly. We find that the landscape of the seafloor is the the deciding factor," says Åkesson.

He points at an example close to the fjord-side village of Jondal, where the fjord is nearly 900 m deep.

Further towards the coast, between the villages of Rosendal and Jondal, the retreat was slow. Along this part of the fjord, the fjord bottom shoals moving inland, until we reach a fjord sill at 500 metres depth. Such sills are known to slow down the retreat of fjord glaciers. A melting glacier can be left hanging several decades on such “submarine hills” at the fjord floor, even though the known climate warming indicates that the glacier would continue to retreat quickly.

"In such settings, we may easily be misled and think that the retreat has stopped, while in reality, it is just a short breather for the glacier. Therefore we really need to know what the submarine landscape looks like," Åkesson points out. 

Over the submarine hills

As a glacier loses its grip at a sill, things literally go downhill.

The study of Hardangerfjorden is a great example of this. From the sill, the fjord floor plunges “downhill” for almost 30 kilometres, before getting gradually shallower towards the village Eidfjord at the fjord head.

The scientists show that during the most dramatic period, the glacier retreated 10 meters per day, or several kilometres every year.

"If you were using the local ferry to Jondal at this time, you could have witnessed the glacier melting back with your own eyes," Åkesson says.  

Clues from the past

The simulation of the collapse of Hardangerfjord Glacier gives clues about the impact of climate change on glaciers today, according to Åkesson, for example in Greenland. 

A temperature rise similar to that at the end of the ice age, will occur in the near future due to global warming,  unless man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are drastically reduced. Such climate warming is critical in deciding the fate of the ice on Greenland and in the fjords around the continent.

Scientists have long been troubled about the health of the Greenland Ice Sheet, where many glaciers have started to flow faster and have retreated many kilometres over the last 20 years.

Ice melt in Greenland is of great consequence for the coastal landscape, wildlife and the local people, while also adding to an already steadily rising global sea level. In the long-run, the entire ice sheet on Greenland is in danger. In the worst-case scenario, the ice sheet will melt away, causing global sea level to rise with seven metres, though this is not expected in at least another 1000 years from now.

Reference: 

Henning Åkesson, Richard Gyllencreutz, Jan Mangerud, John Inge Svendsen, Faezeh M. Nick, Kerim H. Nisancioglu,
Rapid retreat of a Scandinavian marine outlet glacier in response to warming at the last glacial termination, Quaternary Science Reviews,
Volume 250, 2020, 106645, ISSN 0277-3791, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106645

 

You have very likely heard about the Gulf Stream. The Iceland-Faroe Slope Jet, you have never heard of. This current is the newest one on the map.

Supercoolness is less exceptional than you may think. Seals diving under Antarctic sea ice came back with data proving they live in the supercoolest part of the world.

The water entering the Barents Sea is not as cooled down as it used to. This has a large effect on the climate in the area and may lead to fish and other marine life migrating, shown in a Nature Climate Change study.