KU researchers study melting of Greenland ice sheet
Although the Greenland ice sheet is thinning rapidly around its edges, a study co-authored by a University of Kansas professor - and made possible in part by instruments developed at KU - concludes that it is still too early to blame the melting on global warming.
Sivaprasad Gogineni, Deane E. Ackers distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science at KU, was one of seven researchers who collaborated on the study, which appeared in the journal Science late last month.
According to their findings, the ice sheet's edges are thinning, but ice in the higher elevations has not thinned and in some areas has even thickened.
The article was one of two on the ice sheet to appear in the July 21 issue of Science. Both studies were sponsored by NASA.
The other study, by NASA scientists, emphasized the thinning on the ice sheet edges and garnered international attention. The NASA scientists made no inference that the thinning was the result of global warming, but others - from newspaper reporters to environmental activists - seized on those findings and made headlines by insisting that global warming was the culprit.
Gogineni said neither study observed the changes on the ice sheet long enough to make a definitive connection to global warming. Although the study, which began in 1993, is the most comprehensive look ever at the Greenland ice sheet, Gogineni said an accurate assessment of possible global warming trends would take 15 to 20 more years of observations.
"I don't think there is anything catastrophic to worry about at this time," Gogineni said. "But the climate change is taking place and we need to have a better understanding of what is causing that change."
Scientists are keeping a close eye on the Greenland ice sheet because an increase in its melting could lead to a dramatic rise in sea level. The ice sheet holds more than 6 percent of the Earth's freshwater, and more than 11 cubic miles of ice is melting from the ice sheet annually - enough to raise sea level by .005 of an inch each year. Gogineni said scientists finally have the reliable instrumentation in place to conduct long-term observations to see if the melting is accelerating.
"The radar that KU developed helped measure the ice thickness for the first time in many areas of Greenland," Gogineni said.
Chris Allen, KU associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, was among those who helped Gogineni on the Greenland research. Allen said he was grateful for Gogineni's vision on the project.
"He works incredibly hard and he's very generous in that he's very inclusive," Allen said. "He tries to get others involved and he always supports them."
Gogineni said he and Allen were working on developing the next generation of radar for measuring the accumulation rate of ice sheets. And, he said, he would continue to follow any changes in Greenland.
"This is information we need to give to the policy makers and the general public," he said. "And if we do discover that this is the result of global warming, then we need to do a better job of controlling our greenhouse gases and other things we can take care of."
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