Melting glaciers lift Iceland — literally

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Aaron Schacter: From New Finland, we had Northeast over the Atlantic, to Iceland where the rocks are telling a different sort of story. Scientists say the land there is literally rising. Wait, you say land rising? Kathleen Compton, at the University of Arizona, is part of the team that's studying what's happening in Iceland.


Kathleen Compton: Geoscientists have known for a long time now, that the weights of ice sheets and ice caps around the world can have an impact on the shape of the surface of the Earth. So, you can think of someone standing on a trampoline, the weight of that person is going to make the trampoline sag, and if they hop off the trampoline the trampoline regains its shape, and its kind of a phenomenon that's going on our Earth. The weight of the ice is so much that it makes the surface of the Earth sag, and then as we see glaciers melting, we can often measure that uplift that occurs, that sort of rebounding.


Schacter: New Scientists folks call this accelerated uplift right?


Compton: Well, what we're finding in Iceland, is that rebound is getting faster and faster each year. The Ice caps in Iceland are melting faster and faster each year. So, there is a direct connection between how much ice is being melted, and how fast the Earth comes up? About 35mm or an inch and a half or so per year, and that rate is getting faster and faster each year.


Schacter: Okay, I am a little confused. Is this good news or bad news?


Compton: You know, I dont know if its good or bad, its just is. What we do know is that as temperatures continue to rise, and we've noticed that in Iceland and sort of more regionally, temperatures are getting warmer and warmer that leads to an increased rate of melting from the ice caps, and that leads what we can measure from the three bound effect.


Schacter: Is this something you can notice?


Compton: Its not something that you're going to notice if you're out for a hike. Geologically speaking an inch a year is very fast, but its not something that we would be able to notice without the use of precise instruments like GPS.


Schacter: You guys are actually doing this work from Downhill Arizona all the way to Iceland right? You've never been there?


Compton: I am hoping to get there in the next year or so. But we use GPS Technology, secured GPS units to the bedrock. I am working with data from 62 GPS units across all of Iceland, and those antennas, those GPS receivers communicate with Satelites. Over time we're able to watch how that point on Earth moves.


Schacter: How cool is that


Compton: Its very cool, and it would be really exciting to see as we continue to monitor this signal as if what if it doesn't in the future. I am also working now with my collaborators to see if we can use this GPS measurements to sort of say something about the different ways that the ice caps are melting. Are there places of the ice caps that are melting faster than the other parts? Can we use GPS better to understand sort of the dynamics of how ice is melting across each of these ice sheets.


Schacter: I Wonder if we're all be headed there in the not to distant future. It'll be the one place above the ocean. Its going up and our coastlines are gonna be covered.


Compton: You know, the relationship between glacier rebound and increasing sea levels is very complicated and in some parts of the world, sea levels are gonna go up, and in some parts of the world its projected that the sea level will go down. So, it wont be the only place in the world that's above sea level.


Schacter: Okay, Kathleen Compton is a GeoScientist at the University of Arizona. Kathleen, Thank you so much.


Compton: Thank you.


Schacter: Thanks for joining us. You're listening to the World.