Rapid surge of Arctic glacier detected by ESA satellites

This latest jump in speed began in July 2016 and has been climbing ever since – even over the cold winter months.

By Zee Media Bureau | Updated: May 13, 2017, 21:43 PM IST
Rapid surge of Arctic glacier detected by ESA satellites
(Image for representational purposes only)

New Delhi: The frigid polar region of the Arctic is considered a measuring unit for prevailing signs of climate change. Researchers and scientists have been monitoring the icy waters day in and day out for indications of increase and/or decrease in ice.

Now, data from the European Space Agency's Sentinel-1 satellites have helped researchers detect a strange rapid acceleration in an Arctic glacier.

The ESA in a statement on Friday, confirmed that the Negribreen glacier on Norway's Spitsbergen island has recently seen a surge in ice surface speed, increasing from one metre to 13 metres a day over the winter.

When a glacier 'surges' a large amount of ice flows to the end in an unusually short time.

While the surge causes in the Negribreen glacier are not completely understood, researchers believe that they could be linked to changes in the amount of heat or water in the lowest layers of the glaciers.

The last time Negribreen experienced a surge like this was in the 1930s, as documented in aerial photographs. At that time, it advanced almost 12 km into the fjord in one year along a 15 km-wide section of the front.

Since then the front of the glacier had been steadily retreating, with large icebergs breaking off.

This latest jump in speed began in July 2016 and has been climbing ever since – even over the cold winter months.

A team of scientists working under ESA's Climate Change Initiative in the Glaciers_cci project are using satellite radar and optical coverage to map glaciers at different times and determine their changes in extent, elevation and speed.

"Sentinel-1 provides us with a near-realtime overview of glacier flow across the Arctic, remarkably augmenting our capacity to capture the evolution of glacier surges," said Tazio Strozzi from Swiss company Gamma Remote Sensing and scientist on Glaciers_cci.

"This new information can be used to refine numerical models of glacier surging to help predict the temporal evolution of the contribution of Arctic glaciers to sea-level rise," Strozzi said.

Sentinel-1 is a two-satellite mission for Europe's environment monitoring programme, Copernicus.

(With IANS inputs)