Glacier suffers one of the highest shrinkages on record

Greenland’s longest observed glacier has suffered one of the highest shrinkages in its history, a climate expert from the University of Sheffield working with a team of Scandinavian researchers has found.

Dr Edward Hanna at the glacier in Greenland

Following fieldwork surveying the Mittivakkat Gletscher on Ammassalik Island in southeast Greenland – which has been analysed every year since 1995 – researchers have revealed the glacier has suffered the fourth highest shrinkage in its history.

Dr Edward Hanna at the glacier in GreenlandDue to higher than normal temperatures this summer the experts found that the total 2011-2012 mass loss was more than 50 per cent greater than the annual average at 1.63 metres water equivalent, a key measurement used to determine the size of glaciers across the world,. The lower end of the glacier had retreated about nine meters since summer 2011.

Dr Edward Hanna of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography, who was on the island last month in a bid to learn more about the effects of climate change on the glacier, said: “The 2012 mass loss was the fourth highest since 1995, and for the last three years, three out of the four highest annual losses have occurred. This is primarily due to higher than normal temperatures in Greenland during July 2012 and in several other recent warm summers.”

Dr Edward Hanna at the glacier in GreenlandThe researchers also found extremely dark patches of ice on the upper half of the glacier, which speeds up the melting and mass loss because it absorbs more energy from the sun.

Aerial photographs of the glacier spanning more than 80 years are available allowing experts to accurately plot its size throughout its recent history.

Dr Hanna added: “The observation program for this glacier is unique as it is a relatively inaccessible and difficult place in which to do fieldwork. What we're trying to do is to understand more about the response of small glaciers around the edge of Greenland – there are several thousands of them - to ongoing climate change, as - apart from our observation programme - there is precious little information on this.”

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