The Greenland glacier that is thought to have spawned the iceberg that sunk the Titanic is the world’s fastest moving glacier and it’s speeding up. A recent study by the German Space Agency (DLR) and University of Washington finds that the Jakobshavn Glacier located in the southwest of Greenland is now moving more than 46 metres per day or 17 km per year.
Dr. Ian Joughin, the study’s lead author, says that the glacier is now showing speeds of more than four times the speed it was moving in the 90s. During the 90’s the glacier was thought to have been the fastest glacier in Greenland. The latest research was made over 2012 and 2013.
Researchers from the study have said the glacier’s flow rates are “unprecedented” as it appears to be the fastest moving ice stream or glacier now on record. The researchers recently published their latest findings in The Cryosphere journal and noted that the glacier speeds up in summer and slows down in winter. However their findings show that even the yearly average speed of the glacier is moving at nearly four times the speed it was moving at 20 years ago.
With such a fast-moving speed the Greenland glacier is adding more and more ice to the North Atlantic Ocean which contributes to raise the entire world’s sea level by one millimeter from 2000 to 2010. With its recent increase in speed it will contribute more than the millimeter in the next decade too. The Jakobshavn Glacier has been spawning icebergs into the Ocean for many years and it is often thought by experts to be the source of the iceberg that hit and sunk the Titanic on April 15, 1912.
The Jakobshavn Glacier is located on coast in a deep fjord where it helps to drain the Greenland ice sheet by dumping the ice into the ocean waters. The “calving front” of the glacier will often see some ice melting but also it pushes out larger ice pieces into the ocean as icebergs. Both the ice melting and the calving of icebergs into ocean waters are what causes the glacier to contribute to the entire world’s oceans rising.
In recent years the Arctic region has been warming causing glaciers such as the Jakobshavn Glacier to begin to thin and start calving the icebergs from further and further inland. In other words, the glacier is actually retreating. The researchers were able to show that during 2012 and 2013, the front of the glacier retreated over a kilometer more inland than in previous summers on record.
Dr. Joghin stated, as the glacier’s front retreats deeper and deeper inland it loses ice in front that is normally holding back the entire flow of the glacier. Without the ice in front holding up the flow, the glacier speeds up its flow. The researchers and Dr. Joghin believe that the Jakobshavn Glacier is now in an unstable state which will allow it to retreat even further inland in the future.
The team of researchers now believe that the speed at with the glacier is accelerating has two contributing factors; one of the factors is the thinning of the glacier, while the other factor is the increasing regional surface temperatures. These two combined is enough for the glacier to be considered one of the world’s fastest moving sheets of ice. Whether Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier really did spawn the iceberg that sunk the Titanic is all really speculation by the experts, but it still remains as one of the best probable sources.
By Brent Matsalla