Climate Change

Final Images from Satellite Show Advancing Glaciers

Images taken by the European Space Agency’s ERS-2 satellite days before it was retired have revealed the rapid changes happening to Greenland’s glaciers.

Time-lapse animation of images of the Kangerdlugssuaq ice stream taken from March to May 2011. The animation shows the ice stream advancing steadily at a speed of about 35 m per day, until a 9 sq km piece of the glacier broke into icebergs during 19–22 May.

Before it was retired on July 6, ESA’s ERS-2 Earth observation satellite was moved into an orbit that would allow it to take images of the same area on the ground every three days; this, compared to its previous cycle of being able to take images of the same location every 35 days.

The satellite watched the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier, and took images from March to May, 2011, showing the glacier’s ice stream advancing 35 metres per day.

Two images of the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier in eastern Greenland from 1992 and 2011 show that the ice stream’s calving front has retreated by five kilometres in the past 19 years. Thinning in the ice steam and surrounding ice sheet is also evident.

Then, sometime between the 19th and the 22nd of May, a 9 square kilometre piece of the glacier broke up into icebergs.

In addition to the time-lapse footage, when compared to images of Kangerdlugssuaq glacier taken by its sister satellite ERS-1 in 1992, the latest images from ERS-2 show that the ice stream’s calving front has retreated by five kilometres in the past 19 years.

β€œThe data have revealed continued acceleration and retreat of glaciers in both Antarctica and Greenland, and are certain to become one of the most important records of climate change during the satellite era,” says Professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds in the UK.

“Now that ERS-2 is retired, no other flying or planned satellite is able to accurately detect the grounding line location of ice streams,” says Marcus Engdahl, scientific coordinator of the ERS-2 Ice Phase.

β€œThis will make the data gathered by ERS-2 during its final months all the more valuable for scientists.”

Source: European Space Agency

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