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In 80-year-old photographs, clues to declining Arctic ice

Published: Friday, June 1, 2012

Dusty photographs from a Danish basement are revealing new details about the decline and retreat of Greenland's glaciers.

The images, dated from the 1930s, show that landlocked glaciers were melting faster during that period. Today, glaciers that extend into the ocean tend to exhibit faster rates of decline.

Most studies of the Earth's glaciers use satellite and aerial imagery taken since the 1970s, limiting scientific knowledge about long-term trends.

Researcher Jason Box of Ohio State University and graduate student Anders Bjork of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have been compiling earlier records, including some images taken during explorer Knud Rasmussen's seventh Thule Expedition in the early 1930s.

By digitizing and analyzing the images, the team has identified two periods of significant glacier retreat -- one in 1933 and 1934 and a second from 2000 to 2010.

Scientists don't yet know for certain why land-bound glaciers would melt more quickly during the earlier period, but climatologist Benjamin Smith of the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory hypothesizes that the earlier warming could have shifted glaciers to higher elevations, granting them a degree of isolation from the effects of climate change (Thomas Maugh, Los Angeles Times, May 30). -- NM

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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