NASA Eyeballs Glacial Melt in Greenland

Andrew Freedman

By Andrew Freedman

The Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier, one of the largest glaciers in Greenland, swiftly lost a 2.7-square mile chunk of ice between July 6 and 7, NASA announced late last week. The ice loss pushed the point where the glacier meets the ocean, known as the “calving front,” nearly one mile farther inland in a single day. According to the space agency, the new calving front location is the farthest inland on record.

Satellite images from DigitalGlobe, via NASA, showing the recent breakup
of part of the Jakobsahvn Isbrae glacier.

Events such as this one are not unusual, but rarely do scientists see them unfold in near real-time. Researchers working with the space agency spotted the rapid ice loss using high-resolution satellite imagery. Two such images tell the story. In the first image (above), a rift, which looks like a narrow horizontal line indicated by the red arrow, can be seen developing in the glacier. In the next image, taken a day later, the ice below the rift has collapsed into the sea and the location of the calving front has retreated.

Why does this glacier matter to me, you ask?

The short answer: sea level, although this particular event won't raise the level of the Potomac or any other US river anytime soon. Unlike the loss of sea ice, glacial melting causes sea level to increase, and the fate of glaciers like this one will play a key role in determining by how much sea level increases…

Read more at Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog.