SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: April 11, 2017

SNIP: The largest glacier in Greenland is even more vulnerable to sustained ice losses than previously thought, scientists have reported.

Jakobshavn glacier, responsible for feeding flotillas of icebergs into the Ilulissat icefjord — and possibly for unleashing the iceberg that sank the Titanic — is an enormous outlet for the larger Greenland ice sheet, which itself contains enough ice to raise seas by more than 20 feet.

But until now, researchers have not been sure how far Jakobshavn’s ice extends below sea level — or how much deeper it gets further inland. That’s crucial because Jakobshavn is undergoing a dangerous “marine ice sheet instability,” in which oceanfront glaciers that grow deeper further inland are prone to unstoppable retreat down what scientists call a “retrograde” slope.

That’s where the new science comes in: Researchers who flew over Jakobshavn in a helicopter toting a gravimeter, used to detect the gravitational pull of the ice and deduce its mass, say they’ve found the glacier extends even deeper below sea level than previously realized, a configuration that sets the stage for further retreat.

“The way the bed looks, sort of makes it more prone to continuous retreat for decades to come,” said one of the study’s authors, Eric Rignot, a researcher with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California-Irvine.