Home Natural Resource Management Scientists tracking fast-moving glaciers with GPS and satellite imagery

Scientists tracking fast-moving glaciers with GPS and satellite imagery

Two University of Maine scientists studying the effects of climate change in the Arctic have discovered that two glaciers in Greenland are moving at a not-so-glacial pace.
The scientists returned last week from a five-week expedition to the east coast of Greenland, where they studied the movement of five glaciers. They found that two of the glaciers are moving at a far faster rate than just a few years ago, raising questions about the effects of regional warming. To take measurements, the scientists drilled holes in the ice and placed GPS devices in them to precisely measure the forward motion of the glaciers by satellite.

One of the glaciers, called Kangerdlugssuaq, was moving at the rate of nearly nine miles a year, making it one of the world’s fastest-moving glaciers, the researchers said. In the late 1990s, it was moving at about 3.5 miles a year. The glaciers’ accelerated speeds in Greenland suggest that the climate is warming up, at least in that region reported the scientists. Recently the scientists have been studying Greenland’s glaciers at the Climate Change Institute using satellite imagery.

The scientists took readings over the course of several days, calculated the speeds of the glaciers and extrapolated the data into annual measurements. The three northern glaciers that Hamilton and Stearns visited were moving at about 2.5 miles a year, the same rate they’ve been moving at since scientists first started measuring them in 1968. But that wasn’t the case with the two southernmost glaciers, Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim. Kangerdlugssuaq was moving at a rate of 8.7 miles a year – nearly half a football field a day – up from 3.5 miles a year in the 1990s. Helheim was moving at about 7.1 miles a year, up from just less than five miles a year only four years ago.