Phenomena

As Ice Flows

The movement of glaciers is driven by gravity. The immense weight of the ice causes it to both slide downhill and deform – or creep. As glacier melting speeds up, scientists have debated how glacier flow will respond: will the loss of ice cause the glaciers to move more slowly since they have less mass, or will the increase in meltwater help lubricate the underside of glaciers and make them flow even faster?

By analyzing satellite image data of Asian glaciers collected between 1985 and 2017, researchers are finally answering that question. Their research shows that these glaciers are slowing down as they lose mass and speeding up as they gain mass. Nearly all – 94% – of the flow changes they observed can be accounted for solely from ice thickness and slope. This is valuable information as scientists continue to monitor and predict the changes we must expect as the world continues to warm. (Image credit: J. Stevens; research credit: A. Dehecq et al.; via NASA Earth Observatory)

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