Coughing up Icebergs

The Jakobshavn outlet glacier is a marine terminating glacier (terminates into the ocean) that flows off the west-coast of Greenland. It is the largest outlet glacier in terms of drainage area in Greenland, as it drains ~6.5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet. During the last two decades the flow rate of this glacier has increased so much (summer speeds of up to ~46 meters per day) that it has attracted the attention of the scientific community.

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Wicked Problems and Running Glaciers

As the 2014 Winter Olympics roll around, we all wait to see which records will to be the ones to be broken. Mother Nature has even recently broken a record of her own. The Jakobshavn Glacier located in southwest Greenland is now moving at the record-breaking speed of 17 km/year (> 45 meters/ 150 feet per day). I’ll be honest; there are days when I don’t even move that much. The research, which was conducted at the University of Washington and German Aerospace Center, says that the glacier’s exceptionally high speed can be attributed to the warming oceans, which are a product of climate change. These fast speeds do come in during the summer months so some may define them as being extreme, however it should noted that even during the winter when the glacier is moving slower than this, it is still moving around 3 times fast than it was during the 1990s.

Large and complex issues, such as climate change, are becoming more commonly referred to as “wicked problems”. By definition, wicked problems are not wicked as in evil, but they are wicked in the context of being “highly resistant to resolution”. Since we cannot physically see climate change, we tend to ignore it. Yes, we can see the effects of climate change and aspects of it, however it is not a physical item that we can touch or look directly at.

One of those effects that we can see in relation to the fast moving Jakobshavn Glacier are its large icebergs that break off and drift out to sea. Because of the warming oceans and melting glaciers, icebergs are becoming more and more common in Greenland’s southern waters which happens to be a commonly trafficked shipping route. Coincidentally, the Jakobshavn Glacier is widely believed to be the origin of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic in 1912. As wicked and distant as many of our world’s problems may seem, their symptoms are knocking on our front door, warning us of their presence and destruction.

–Pete D

Photo Credit:

1. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203101016.htm
2. http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/jakobshavn.html