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Study: Meltwater Drives the Warming of Greenland Ice Sheet

Feb 11, 2015   |   by John Cramer   |   Dartmouth Now

The snow atop Greenland’s ice sheet has warmed markedly over the last 60 years, a trend driven by percolating meltwater that will accelerate in coming years, according to research by Dartmouth scientists and their colleagues.

The rapid melting of most of the world’s glaciers is well established, but the new findings shed light on the mechanisms that control how the interior of the ice warms and how melt leaves the ice sheet to contribute to sea level rise. The study appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. ...

... “The important implication of this is that the energy delivered into the firn by percolating meltwater and released as heat by refreezing the meltwater can accumulate over multiple years,” says lead author Chris Polashenski ’07, Thayer ’07, ’11, an adjunct assistant professor at Thayer School of Engineering and a research geophysicist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

“Such an amplified warming within the layers of the firn is important to understanding sea level rise,” Polashenski says. “A lot of the melt currently produced on the Greenland ice sheet never makes it to ocean because the firn is still cold enough to refreeze the meltwater that enters it. The accumulation of heat year after year within the firn, however, ‘ripens’ the ice sheet and makes it less capable of recapturing future melt events—a process that these observations show is well under way.”

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