Feeds

1930s photos show Greenland glaciers retreating faster than today

But nobody thought it was a big deal

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Recently unearthed photographs taken by Danish explorers in the 1930s show glaciers in Greenland retreating faster than they are today, according to researchers.

Danish explorers in Greenland in 1932. Credit: National Survey and Cadastre of Denmark

We're not worried about rising sea levels. Well, we are in a seaplane.

The photos in question were taken by the seventh Thule Expedition to Greenland led by Dr Knud Rasmussen in 1932. The explorers were equipped with a seaplane, which they used to take aerial snaps of glaciers along the Arctic island's coasts.

After the expedition returned the photographs were used to make maps and charts of the area, then placed in archives in Denmark where they lay forgotten for decades. Then, in recent years, international researchers trying to find information on the history of the Greenland glaciers stumbled across them.

Taken together the pictures show clearly that glaciers in the region were melting even faster in the 1930s than they are today, according to Professor Jason Box, who works at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State uni.

There's much scientific interest in the Greenland ice sheet, as unlike most of the Arctic ice cap it sits on land: thus if it were to melt, serious sea level rises could occur (though the latest research says that this doesn't appear to be on the cards).

It's difficult to know exactly what's happening to the Greenland ice in total and very different estimates have been produced in recent times. However Professor Box says that many glaciers along the coasts have started retreating in the past decade.

It now appears that the glaciers were retreating even faster eighty years ago: but nobody worried about it, and the ice subsequently came back again. Box theorises that this is likely to be because of sulphur pollution released into the atmosphere by humans, especially by burning coal and fuel oils. This is known to have a cooling effect.

Unfortunately atmospheric sulphur emissions also cause other things such as acid rain, and as a result rich Western nations cracked down on sulphates in the 1960s. Prof Box believes that this led to warming from the 1970s onward, which has now led to the glaciers retreating since around 2000.

Other scientists have said recently that late-20th-century temperature rises in the Arctic may result largely from clean-air legislation intended to deal with acid rain: some have even gone so far as to suggest that rapid coal- and diesel-fuelled industrialisation in China is serving to prevent further warming right now.

Still other scientists, differing with Prof Box, offer another picture altogether of Arctic temperatures, in which there were peaks both in the 1930s and 1950s and cooling until the 1990s: and in which the warming trend which resulted in the melting seen by Rasmussen's expedition actually started as early as 1840, before the industrial revolution and human-driven carbon emission had even got rolling. In that scenario, variations in the Sun seem to have much more weight than is generally accepted by today's climatologists.

At any rate, the new information from the old Danish pictures adds some more data to the subject. The new study by Box and his co-authors is published by Nature Geoscience, here. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.