Floating glaciers have a hard time recovering from rupture due to global warming, study says

If Greenland ‘s second-largest ice shelf breaks, it may not recover unless Earth ‘s future climate cools considerably.


This is the result of a new study published in Nature Communications by scientists at Stockholm University and the University of California Irvine.

who investigated whether the Petermann Ice Shelf — a floating extension of the Petermann glacier — in northern Greenland it could recover from a future breakup due to climate change . They used a sophisticated computer model to simulate the possible recovery of the ice shelf.

“Even if Earth’s climate stopped warming, it would be difficult to rebuild this ice shelf once it has collapsed,” says Henning Akesson, who led the study at Stockholm University, in a statement.

“If the Petermann Ice Shelf is lost, we would have to ‘go back in time’ to a cooler climate reminiscent of the period before the industrial revolution to grow Petermann back,” says Akesson.

Ice shelves reduce the loss of mass from our polar ice caps. These guardians thus limit the rise in sea level caused by global warming. “The rationale for preventing ice shelves from breaking up in the first place should be clearer than ever,” says Akesson.

Petermann is one of the few remaining ice shelves in Greenland and is being watched by scientists around the world after Manhattan-sized icebergs broke off the ice shelf in 2010 and 2012, causing Petermann to lose his mind. 40 percent of its floating ice shelf.

“It’s just the first step”

Scientists are concerned that further breakup or even collapse of the ice shelf will accelerate the flow of ice from the inner ice sheet. In 2018, a new crack was discovered in the middle of the ice shelf, renewing concerns about Petermann’s health.

While this study focused on the largest glacier in northwestern Greenland , another serious concern is that larger ice shelves found in Antarctica could also be difficult to rebuild, should they break off as well.

“This is just the first step, but our findings are likely not unique to Petermann Glacier and Greenland ,” says Akesson. “If they are not, warming of the polar oceans in the near future may push the ice shelves that protect Earth’s ice sheets into a new state of high discharge from which it may be extremely difficult to recover.”

Ice sheet experts stress that we need to pin down exactly how ice shelves are breaking up and how much more heating they can now withstand before they fall apart.

(With information from Europe Press)