The University of Southampton

GLACSWEB features on BBC News at Ten

Published: 21 November 2006

A BBC film crew this month accompanied researchers from the School on one of their regular visits to the Briksdalsbreen glacier in Norway, which has this year shown a dramatic retreat of around 100 metres. The report will be shown on Tuesday 21 November.

The GLACSWEB project, undertaken jointly by the School of Electronics and Computer Science and the School of Geography at the University of Southampton, has been monitoring the behaviour of glaciers in response to climate change. Deep within the Briksdalsbreen glacier in Norway, Europe’s largest ice sheet, Southampton scientists maintain a network of wireless sensors which report data back to Southampton continuously on measurements including movement, pressure, and temperature.

Over the last three years the glacier has been retreating at approximately 100 metres a year, and the warm autumn temperatures of the last few months have contributed to a retreat of around 50 metres since July.

Dr Kirk Martinez says that three factors can be identified as major causes for the glacier’s melting: ‘First we can point to global warming as a result of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere,’ he says. ‘Second the negative phase of the North Atlantic oscillation brings less winter snowfall, and finally the presence of the lake at the foot of the glacier caused increasing subglacial melting during the retreat but also provided a fine-grained sediment base over which the glacier rapidly advanced during the 1987-96 advance.’

The rapid melting of the ice means that the glacier has become too steep and dangerous to work on, so the project will have to move to another glacier. However, the results from Briksdalsbreen provide much more general indications of glacier behaviour: ‘By charting the dramatic break-up of Briksdalsbreen we can predict what may happen to other rapidly melting glaciers,’ says Dr Martinez. ‘This has particular relevance to the outlet glaciers of Greenland, whose discharge has an important control on the thermohyline circulation, which affects the climate of North-West Europe.’

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