Study finds Greenland’s glacier retreat rate has doubled over past two decades

Greenland’s thousands of peripheral glaciers have entered a new and widespread state of rapid retreat, a Northwestern University and University of Copenhagen study has found.

To piece together the magnitude of glacier retreat, the research team combined satellite images with historical aerial photographs of Greenland’s coastline, which is dotted with thousands of glaciers that are separate from the island’s massive central ice sheet. With these one-of-a-kind data, the researchers documented changes in the lengths of more than 1,000 of the country’s glaciers over the past 130 years.

Although glaciers in Greenland have experienced retreat throughout the last century, the rate of their retreat has rapidly accelerated over the last two decades. According to the multiyear collaborative effort between the United States and Denmark, the rate of glacial retreat during the 21st century is twice as fast as retreat during the 20th century. And, despite the range of climates and topographical characteristics across Greenland, the findings are ubiquitous, even among Earth’s northernmost glaciers.