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29 Jul 2011: Greenland’s Ice Sheet May Be
More Stable than Previously Thought

Research into the last prolonged warm spell on Earth — an interglacial period roughly 125,000 years ago — shows that Greenland’s ice sheet may be more stable and Antarctica’s less stable than previous studies have shown. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin conducted a detailed study of the behavior of Greenland’s ice sheet during the previous interglacial era and discovered that the melting of Greenland’s glaciers probably accounted for about half of the 13 to 20 foot increase in global sea levels during that period. Geoscientist Anders Carlson and other researchers had believed that Greenland was probably responsible for the overwhelming majority of the rise in sea levels, because the far larger Antarctic ice sheets would have been more stable. But Carlson says his latest research, published in Science, shows that Antarctica, and particularly the less-stable West Antarctic Ice Sheet, probably accounted for half of sea level increases 125,000 years ago — which could mean that melting Antarctic ice will contribute significantly to sea level rise in the coming century or two. Carlson and his team studied sediment cores from the ocean floor off Greenland and by using radiogenic isotopes were able to determine which sections of the Greenland ice sheet melted in the previous interglacial. The research showed that ice still covered significant portions of Greenland and that the ice sheet loss less mass than previously believed.


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