What happens when an ice sheet warms up? The world’s leading glaciologists and climate scientists have been pondering this simple question for over two decades. Their answer… it’s definitely been getting smaller but very difficult to precisely predict its long-term future.
To be fair it is a much more difficult question to answer that it might appear. It’s hardly surprising to know that as the climate warms, the ice melts more. But where is that melt happening? How much of the meltwater refreezes? Where and when does the meltwater reach the bed of the ice sheet? How much of the melt reaches the sea and actually raises global sea levels? As the climate warms, the ice sheet also accumulates more snow, it slides across its bed more quickly in the summer, and where the ice reaches the sea it breaks up into huge icebergs. How will all these processes be affected by continued warming and what is their combined effect on the long-term future of ice sheet? All these processes make the answer to our simple question much less straightforward, but much more fascinating.