The phrase “glacial change” needs to be retired

greenland_ice_melting.jpgClimate change is occurring much faster than the IPCC models project. The Greenland ice sheet is a prime example. Robert Correll, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, said in Ilulissat recently:

“We have seen a massive acceleration of the speed with which these glaciers are moving into the sea. The ice is moving at two metres an hour on a front 5km [3 miles] long and 1,500 metres deep. That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London for a year.”

The glacier’s movement is accelerated as water flows down “moulins” (see picture) to the ice-bedrock interface at the bottom and acts as a lubricant for the entire glacier to slide and glide on. This “provides a mechanism for rapid, large-scale, dynamic responses of ice sheets to climate warming,” according to research led by led by NASA and MIT scientists. Yet this factor has been given “little or no consideration in estimates of ice-sheet response to climate change.”

The models are missing the moulins — even though you can’t miss them in the real world. Correll said that flying over the glacier in the 1960s, he saw no moulins but now “there are hundreds of them.”

Just how fast can a glacier move? Correll “measured one surge at 5km in 90 minutes – an extraordinary event.”

The whole idea of “glacial change” as a metaphor for change too slow to see will vanish in a world where glaciers are shrinking so fast that you can actually watch them retreat. Greenland’s glaciers are moving faster than America’s climate policy, which, I suppose, isn’t saying that much any more….


8 Responses to The phrase “glacial change” needs to be retired

  1. caerbannog says:

    Just a quick heads up; For those who wish to download the NASA/MIT paper, the link above is broken. The correct link is

  2. Joe says:

    Fixed. Thanks.

  3. David D. says:

    If man had camera’s 10-15,000 years ago, I bet he could have taken a similar picture while standing on a melting glacier over Greenbay, WI. Glaciers are melting – Surprise! Surprise! I believe this could be considered old – no ancient news. Natural Global Warming has been taking place for 10-15,000 years.

  4. John says:


    And 50,000 years before that, glaciers were at there apogee … but here’s the thing, bub. Back then, there were a million or so humans, living hunter-gather lifestyles. Ice comes, ice goes, not problem. Pick up your spear and migrate. Water covers vast areas of the coast? No problem, pick up your spear and move inland.

    Today, there are 6.3 billion of us; 25% or so living in areas that will be effected by sea level rise. Can we pick up Miami,or London or most of Bangladesh etc. etc. and move? And if we are part of the force causing this, should we simply continue because it’s happened in the past? And what is the effect of anthropogenic changes if they are superimposed on a natural cycle? Something unprecedented in geologic history?

    And we are reliant on a relatively brittle agricultural system dependent upon a few plant species grown in massive mono-cultures. Being brittle, and adapted for the places where soil types and climate are a certain way, can they sustain a change? Will low quality- high clay soils in the Steppes substitute for rich top soils with these grains? Want to bet the ranch on it?

    So, if there were a few million of us wandering around with spears, I suppose you could call it old news. But we’re in the Holocen now, bud. The old natural cycles ploy doesn’t take you too far …

  5. David D. says:


    “And 50,000 years before that, glaciers were at there apogee”. You just made my point. 50,000 years ago there were no SUV’s or coal burning power plants either and the glaciers have still receded. Sorry John, if the Earth decides to go through a warming trend, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Even the Kyoto protocol is calculated to effect the global mean temperature (“global mean temperature” – what a bogus measurement) by 0.07C. If one includes error, that value is negligible, yet the cost to the world population is astronomic.

    Oh is the the 20-plus foot rises in sea levels predicted by these pathetic models that now predict – according to the latest IPCC report – sea level rises of less then a foot over the next 100 years? Quick everyone sell your beach front property before it’s too late… In fact, I will be glad to take it off you hands for 10 cents on a dollar. Remember readers out there, some “creditable” scientists say it is already too late. 10 cents is better then nothing.

    Then those in hurricane prone areas, quick sell your property. Listen to Gore and the NOAA. Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and the NOAA predicted a horrible 2006 hurricane season and this year was going to produce how many killer canes? I will also buy your property for 10 cents on the dollar.

    Hey, if you really believe that CO2 has a serious effect on the planet, then feel free… stop eating meat… don’t fly… buy a hybrid… don’t run your electricity… by a bicycle (careful you don’t exert yourself because you will exhale more CO2 into the atmosphere)… don’t jog or other anaerobic workouts… don’t have children… purchase some green credits so you don’t feel as guilty… i really don’t care, just don’t try to force me to fund your belief in junk science. If you want to convince me and the other rapidly growing pool of scientists that man is responsible for global warming, you better come up with facts – not emotional hype and scare tactics. As I said in another blog, man-made global warming alarmists are as creditable in understanding the science of global warming as president bush is on foreign affairs. They both rely on “scare tactics” and they are complete idiots.

    Finally, it’s Monday Night Football night! I wonder how much CO2 Monday Night Football is responsible for. If the alarmists are serious about reducing America’s carbon footprint, better start with the CO2 footprint of football…

    Meanwhile, I will grab a bag a chips and a coke – produced by plants that emit CO2 – out of my CO2 generating refrigerator, turn on my CO2 producing TV; sit down on my couch whose production required the emission of CO2 and enjoy the game! I promise to limit my CO2 emitting outbursts when my team scores a touchdown.

    What is your CO2 footprint John? What are you doing to – not reduce – but eliminate YOUR carbon footprint?

  6. David D. says:

    Oh and John, you sound like my 5th grade school teacher in the late 60’s. Back then I vividly remember that the world was approaching major ciaos. The planet was over three billion and, therefore, large percentages of the world’s population were going to starve. The world was not able to feed that many people. Famine and disease would devastate the planet if we did not do something quickly. We were going to run out of oil by the year 2000. No one would be able to fish Lake Erie because it was too polluted and it would not be clean enough until at least 2000 – I fished it in 1980. Nuclear war was just around the corner and going to destroy us all. Then in the early 1970’s the new ice age was coming. What is it about some humans? It seems to me that they have to believe in some major human catastrophe. Look stop worrying about “man-made” global warming; after all the planet will be destroyed before global warming kills us by either an asteroid or a super volcano like the one in Yellowstone.

  7. Anonymous says:

    David is not very nice. If there is a chance we can make a difference we should. Everyone needs to try.

  8. Tammy M. says:

    LOL…. I have to agree with David. I dont purposely do things to hurt our environment, but I do have to laugh when I read his comments on all the hype. The bottom line is that none of us will know exactly what we are doing to the Earth until its done. I have no real faith in science, because eggs were bad for me yesaterday, now Im supposed to eat them. Everything I own causes cancer, and I came from a monkey according to some of these “grand imginations”. Scientist “prove” their theorys to be right all the time, then 20 years later another scientist proves it to be wrong, and everyone is still amazed that these scientists are sooo smart! What? I like to compare them to weather men….only right part of the time, but everyone still hangs on their every word during bad weather!