Greenland ice loss can fill world`s 11th largest lake

Greenland is a natural lab for studying how climate change has affected ice fields.

Last Updated: May 25, 2011, 13:28 PM IST

Washington: Two of the three largest glaciers draining a frozen Greenland have lost so much ice that, if melted, could have filled Lake Erie, the world`s 11th largest lake, researchers say.

Bounded by the US and Canada, Lake Erie is spread over 25,745 square km, and has a length of 388 km and breadth of 92 km at its widest points, with an average depth of 62 feet.

Greenland, as the second largest holder of ice on the planet, and the site of hundreds of glaciers, is a natural lab for studying how climate change has affected these ice fields.

The three glaciers - Helheim, Kangerdlugssuaq and Jakobshavn Isbrae - are responsible for as much as one-fifth of the ice flowing out from Greenland into the ocean, reports the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"Jakobshavn alone drains somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of all the ice flowing outward from inland to the sea," explained Ian Howat, assistant professor of earth sciences at the Ohio State University.

Researchers focus on the "mass balance" of glaciers, the rate of new ice being formed as snowfall versus the flow of ice out into the sea, according to Ohio statement.

The new study suggests that in the last decade, Jakobshavn Isbrae has lost enough ice to equal 11 years` worth of normal snow accumulation, approximately 300 gigatons (300 billion tons) of ice.

"Kangerdlugssuaq would have to stop flowing and accumulate snowfall for seven years to regain the ice it has lost," said Howat, also a member of the Byrd Polar Research Centre at Ohio State.

The real value of the research, however, is the confirmation that the new techniques Howat and his colleagues developed will provide a more accurate idea of exactly how much ice is being lost.