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04 May 2012: Greenland Glaciers Moving
More Slowly Than Previous Estimates

A new U.S. study says that Greenland’s glaciers are sliding into the sea more slowly than previously estimated, a finding that may indicate future sea level rise will not be as high as some projected worst-case scenarios. Using satellite data to track changes to 200 outlet glaciers from 2000 to 2011, a team of scientists calculated that Greenland’s glaciers accelerated by an average of 30 percent during the decade — a significant amount but not as rapidly as feared. In an earlier study, scientists calculated that glacial flow would increase by 100 percent between 2000 and 2010, and then stabilize at the higher speed, contributing as much as 19 inches to global sea level rise by the end of the century. According to the new study, published in the journal Science, the glaciers are expected to continue gaining speed in the coming decades, possibly contributing four inches to sea level rise by 2100. The researchers cautioned, however, that a 10-year study is too short to make any conclusions on long-term behavior. “So there still may be future events — tipping points — that could cause large increases in glacier speed to continue,” said Ian Howat, an assistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University and co-author of the study.

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