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The Copenhagen Diagnosis

The Copenhagen Diagnosis

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Published by Carlos Paniagua

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Published by: Carlos Paniagua on Dec 01, 2009
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10/31/2012

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Figure 11. The foating ice tongue representing the seaward extent of Jakobshavn Isbræ on July 7, 2001. Changes in
the position of the calving front from 1851 to 2006 are indicated. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientifc
Visualization Studio (http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003300/a003395/).

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that the observed recent acceleration (Rignot and Kanagaratnam
2006) of Jakobshavn Isbrae may be attributed to thinning from
the arrival of warm waters in the region.

Destabilization of foating ice shelves has been widespread
along the Antarctic Peninsula with seven collapsing in the last
20 years. Warming along the Peninsula has been dramatic, and
on the western side has been substantially above the global
average. Most recently, in March 2009, more than 400 square
kilometers collapsed off the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the western
side of the Antarctic Peninsula. A number of mechanisms
are thought to play important roles in destabilizing foating
Antarctic ice shelves. These include: surface warming leading to
the creation of melt ponds and subsequent fracturing of existing
crevasses (van den Broeke 2005); subsurface ice shelf melting
from warming ocean waters (Rignot et al. 2008b); and internal
ice shelf stresses (Bruan and Humbert 2009). While the collapse
of a foating ice shelf does not itself raise sea level, its collapse
is followed by rapid acceleration of glacier outfow – which does

raise sea level – due to the removal of the ice shelf buttressing
effect (e.g. Rignot et al. 2004; Scambos et al. 2004).

There is evidence for the melting of ice shelves in the Amundsen
Sea, with impacts on the fow speed of glaciers draining this part
of West Antarctica. A recent modeling study has suggested
that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would begin to collapse when
ocean temperatures in the vicinity of any one of the ice shelves
that surround it warm by about 5°C (Pollard and DeConto
2009). There is also evidence that these changes are not limited
to West Antarctica and may also affect the coastline of East
Antarctica, for example in Wilkes Land (Pritchard et al. 2009;
Shepherd and Wingham 2007). The widespread thinning and
acceleration of glaciers along the Antarctic coast may indicate
a signifcant impact of oceanic changes on glacier dynamics, a
factor that has received little attention in past IPCC reports due
to the lack of observational data on ice-ocean interactions and
how climate change might infuence coastal ocean waters.

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