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Home* News and Stories → Aus­t­fon­na: an ice cap on the move

Aus­t­fon­na: an ice cap on the move

The ice cap Aus­t­fon­na is covering lar­ge parts of Nord­aus­t­land, the second-lar­gest island in the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go. The total sur­face area of Aus­t­fon­na, actual­ly a com­po­si­te of several smal­ler ice caps, is more than 8400 squa­re kilo­me­tres.

For deca­des, Aus­t­fon­na was con­si­de­red to be rela­tively sta­ble: it did not suf­fer mas­si­ve loss of volu­me as many other gla­ciers in Spits­ber­gen and else­whe­re in the Arc­tic. More recent­ly, mar­gi­nal parts were thin­ning while cen­tral parts were gai­ning thic­kness, a beha­viour known to pre­pa­re a sur­ge if it lasts for some time. A sur­ge is a sud­den advan­ce whe­re a gla­cier can move for­ward over many kilo­me­tres wit­hin a year or two, it is a result of gla­cier mecha­nics and not of cli­ma­te varia­ti­ons (see Rocks and Ice for more about gla­ciers and sur­ges). Also parts of Aus­t­fon­na are known to have sur­ged in the past, for examp­le Brås­vell­breen, the sou­thern part of the ice cap, in the 1930s.

Infor­ma­ti­on from satel­li­te images has now yiel­ded evi­dence for incre­a­sed velo­ci­ty over lar­ge parts of Aus­t­fon­na. The ice cap is pushing into the Bar­ents Sea, pro­du­cing vast amounts of ice­bergs and thus con­tri­bu­ting signi­fi­cant­ly to glo­bal sea level rise, cur­r­ent­ly more than all other gla­ciers in Spits­ber­gen tog­e­ther. Nevertheless, sci­en­tists invol­ved in obser­ving Aus­t­fon­na assu­me it will incre­a­se its volu­me in the years to come.

AECO, the arc­tic expe­di­ti­on crui­se orga­niz­a­ti­on, has issued a warning to navi­ga­te care­ful­ly in the­se waters, as lar­ger num­bers of ice­bergs than usu­al and chan­ges of the gla­cia­ted coast­li­ne have to be expec­ted.

Such an event, whe­re an ice cap of thousands of squa­re kilo­me­tres starts to move more rapidly, is uni­que during the peri­od of detail­ed sci­en­ti­fic obser­va­ti­on and regu­lar tou­ris­tic access. The recent obser­va­ti­on is based on data from the Euro­pean satel­li­te Sen­ti­nel-1a. One rea­son the­se data have drawn more than just a litt­le bit of atten­ti­on is the fact that the satel­li­te had, at the time in ques­ti­on, not even ful­ly reached its orbit, but was nevertheless able to pro­du­ce high qua­li­ty data.

The ice cap Aus­t­fon­na on Nord­aus­t­land has star­ted to move more rapidly on lar­ge parts of its huge area.


Source: BBC News.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (3): Die Bären­in­sel und Jan May­en”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!



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last modification: 2014-07-01 · copyright: Rolf Stange