Environment monitoring satellites have captured the rapid increase in speed of an Arctic glacier as it started moving 13 times faster than before.
The Negribreen glacier on Norway’s Spitsbergen island has seen a dramatic increase in ice surface speed over the past year with the pace jumping from one meter a day to a staggering 13 meters every 24 hours.
Using data from European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellites, researchers have detected rapid acceleration of an Arctic glacier, Negribreen.
Sentinel-1 is a two-satellite mission for Europe’s environment monitoring programme, Copernicus.
When a glacier ‘surges’ a large amount of ice flows to the end in an unusually short time.
The last time Negribreen experienced a surge like this was in the 1930s, as documented in aerial photographs.
At that time, it advanced almost 12 km into the fjord in one year along a 15 km-wide section of the front.
The reasons behind these surges are not fully understood, but they are believed to be caused by increases in the amount of heat or water in the lowest layers of the glaciers.
Since then the front of the glacier had been steadily retreating, with large icebergs breaking off.
This latest jump in speed began in July 2016 and has been climbing ever since – even over the cold winter months.
A team of scientists from the ESA’s Climate Change Initiative are using satellite radar and optical coverage to map glaciers at different times and determine how they are changing.
Satellites allow them much greater ability to monitor the giant sheets of glaciers as they can see through clouds and other inclement weather.