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What is really happening to the Greenland icecap?
Date:11/3/2008

The Greenland ice cap has been a focal point of recent climate change research because it is much more exposed to immediate global warming than the larger Antarctic ice sheet. Yet while the southern Greenland ice cap has been melting, it is still not clear how much this is contributing to rising sea levels, and much further research is needed. A framework for such research was defined at a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF).

"The main objectives were to establish current understanding, prioritise research needs, and develop proposals," said one of the ESF workshop's convenors, Professor Tavi Murray from the Glaciology Group at Swansea University in the UK. "I believe we did the first two very well and laid the ground for developing research proposals."

While recent observations indicate that the Greenland ice cap is melting fast, it is uncertain how much this is contributing to sea levels, as co-convenor Carl Bggild, from UNIS in Svalbard explained. "A major challenge is to determine what fraction of melt water really runs off, because in many places the melt water will just drain into the cold snow and refreeze," said Bggild.

One way to determine how much water is running off is to measure not just the area of the Greenland ice cap but also its thickness, but this is much more difficult. Alternatively, the run off process can be tracked both on the ground and by satellite, preferably integrating the two, as was discussed at the workshop. The need to establish a database of ground based observations, including run off, as well as the ongoing calving of ice bergs from the ice cap and occasional events such as earthquakes beneath the ice was discussed.

Perhaps the greatest immediate challenge identified at the workshop though lies in reducing the high levels of uncertainty over the current and future behaviour of the Greenland ice cap, and reconciling the many conflicting observations and predi
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Contact: Professor Tavi Murray
t.murray@swansea.ac.uk
44-017-926-02269
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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