Global warming: Study helps quantify how much Alaska’s melting glaciers contribute to sea level rise

Research aims to fine-tune sea-level rise projections

The Columbia Glacier in Alaska is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory web page for more information.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As part of a global study of melting glaciers and rising sea level, two University of Alaska Fairbanks geophysicists helped compile a global inventory of glaciers, with a focus on Alaska.

Before the study, only about 40 percent of Alaska’s glaciers were inventoried. The two researchers, Anthony Arendt and Regine Hock, concluded that Alaska remains one of the top contributors to global sea level.

“Alaska has a considerable amount of glacier ice, much of which is located near the coast, making it particularly susceptible to climate fluctuations,” said Arendt. “Sea level change is a pressing societal problem,” Arendt said. “These new estimates are helping us explain the causes of current sea-level rise.”

The two researchers emphasized the need for further study: Of all the regions examined, Alaska had some of the largest discrepancies between field and satellite estimates.

The global study involved scientists from 10 countries who combined data from field measurements and satellites to get the most complete global picture to date of glacier mass losses and their contribution to rising sea levels. The findings appear in the May 17 edition of Science magazine.

The study found that, between 2003-2009, the world’s mountain glaciers added just as much meltwater to rising sea levels as the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, said Alex Gardner, main author on the study and an assistant professor at Clark University in Massachusetts.

The melt from the mountain glaciers alone explains one third of current sea level rise of about 2.5 millimeters, or a tenth of an inch, yearly, with glacial melt, ice sheet melt and the warming of ocean water equally sharing responsibility.

The study was compiled in order to provide new estimates to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global report compiled every six years summarizing scientists’ best estimates of the environmental impacts of climate variations.

“More field data is needed to supplement satellite observations, so that we can better understand how glaciers in Alaska will respond to future climate variations,” said Hock.


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