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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Long, A.J. Back to the future: Greenland's contribution to sea-level change. GSA Today. 2009;19:4-10.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The Greenland Ice Sheet is presently making a signifi cant
contribution to global sea-level rise. Predictions for the future
suggest that this will continue and likely accelerate during the
remainder of this century. However, a comprehensive understanding
of ongoing mass balance fl ux has only become possible
in the last decade or so, following the development
of satellite and other new observational technologies. As a
result, it is not clear whether the patterns observed today are
typical of the past or not. In this paper, I review predictions
for Greenland’s contribution to future sea-level rise and then
place these estimates in the context of the evidence for
change during the twentieth century, the last few millennia,
and the Eemian interglacial. There is evidence that the ice
sheet responds sensitively to changes in conditions in the
adjacent North Atlantic, leading to a hypothesis that annual
and decadal fl uctuations in Atlantic air and sea surface temperatures
shape the ice sheet’s contribution to global sea-level
change. The recent loss of ice needs also to be seen in the
context of an overall increase in ice sheet size and the related
advance of the ice sheet margin by tens of kilometers during
the past few millennia. I conclude by arguing that in order to
better constrain the role of the Greenland Ice Sheet in future
sea level, improvements in our understanding of present-day
change in the ice sheet must be matched by equal strides in
understanding how the ice sheet evolved in the past.

Department of Geography