Greenland Conference Summarizes Recent Cryosphere Changes


By Katie Oberthaler
Winter 2010

Over 160 scientists convened in Nuuk, Greenland from August 25-27 for the Nuuk Climate Days conference. Dr. Prasad Gogineni served on the scientific committee for the conference and gave a presentation titled “Radar Sounding of Jakobshavn, Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim Glacier.”

The conference aimed to provide a comprehensive and current assessment of the Greenland Cryosphere. The Cryosphere refers to Greenland’s ice sheets, permafrost and surrounding sea ice. Pooling knowledge from a wide variety of sources, scientists compared multiple types of measurements such as satellite, radar, and in-situ data. Attendees concentrated not just on the process and increasing rate of ice sheet discharge, but how the ice interacts with fjords and ocean water to alter the Arctic. The conference specifically focused on how these changes will impact Greenlandic society in the coming years. The National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, the Danish Meteorological Institute, and the Greenland Climate Research Center organized the conference. Nuuk Climate Days was held in tandem with the “Arctic Freshwater Budget (FreshNor)” and “Changes in the Greenland Cryosphere” workshops.

The general atmosphere of the conference was one of accelerated anxiety over the Cryosphere’s recent and rapid alterations. Findings explicated widespread knowledge about climate change into detail. The scientists concluded that the Greenland ice sheet has seen a marked increase in mass balance loss in the past decade due largely in part to iceberg calving into the ocean as well as amplified melting on the glaciers’ surfaces. They determined that in the past five years the ice sheet has lost an average of 240 cubic kilometers of ice per year. Ice has begun melting in the northern regions in addition to south Greenland. Ice sheet replenishment on inland locations has also decreased in recent years.

Scientists also determined that Arctic sea ice has shrunk more than satellite measurements have shown. Notably, conference attendees predicted that the Arctic Ocean could contain no sea ice as early as 2015. Without sea ice to reflect sunlight, the water absorbs more heat, leading to increased melting near the terminus of outlet glaciers. Scientists had previously underestimated this process as a driver in glacial melting. They also deduced that if this trend persists, it could result in about a 1 meter rise in sea level this century.

These assertions reinforce well-known observations about the Greenland Cryosphere. However, the specific details also provided supporting information for politicians as they convene in Copenhagen in November 2009 to reach a legally-binding climate policy agreement. The conference stressed that the Greenland Cryosphere’s recent and continuing changes will result in global impacts.