Polar Bears International

According to previous measurements and aerial photographs, the northeast Greenland ice sheet margin appeared to be stable for 25 years -- until 2003. Around that time, a string of especially warm summers triggered increased melting and calving events, which have continued to the present day.

© Alexei Novikov / Fotolia

3/18/2014 4:13:29 PM

Studies Show Melting Glaciers in Greenland and Lack of Sea Ice in Arctic this Winter

The entire U.S. Midwest has been gripped this winter by extreme cold sent south by the now-notorious polar vortex, while arctic regions are suffering from a lack of cold and ice.

Lack of sea ice is especially deleterious for polar bears. Polar bears rely on the sea ice to hunt, breed, and sometimes to den.  

A new study found that Greenland has lost 10 billion tons of ice per year over the last 10 years. The glaciers in northwest Greenland were long thought to be the most stable part of the Greenland Ice Sheet and their accelerated melting will likely raise sea levels more than previously thought.

According to Science Daily, "The new result focuses on ice loss due to a major retreat of an outlet glacier connected to a long 'river' of ice -- known as an ice stream -- that drains ice from the interior of the ice sheet. The Zachariae ice stream retreated about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) over the last decade, the researchers concluded. For comparison, one of the fastest moving glaciers, the Jakobshavn ice stream in southwest Greenland, has retreated 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) over the last 150 years."

To add to the problem of melting glaciers in Greenland, arctic sea ice grew slowly this February. Bering Sea ice cover has been below average throughout winter, in contrast to the last several winters. Ice extent also remains below average in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center wrote, "Arctic sea ice extent in February 2014 averaged 14.44 million square kilometers (5.58 million square miles). This is the fourth lowest February ice extent in the satellite data record, and is 910,000 square kilometers (350,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. The lowest February in the satellite record occurred in 2005."

Read more: Northeast Greenland ice loss accelerating, researchers say,  In the Arctic, winter's might doesn't have much bite 

This map shows major ice drainages in Greenland, along with measured ice surface velocities. The northeast Greenland ice stream (NEGIS) now appears to be retreating as rapidly, or perhaps more rapidly, than other parts of the ice sheet, including Jakobshavn Isbræ (JI), Helheim Glacier (HG) and Kangerdlugssuaq (KG). Catchments for those regions are outlined on the map.
© The Ohio State University, Natural History Museum of Denmark

Walrus hauled out on the sea ice near King Island. The island is located in the Bering Sea, which saw significantly less sea ice form this year. March 13, 2013
© Loren Holmes photo

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