Iceland is rising at the rate of as much as 1.4 inches per year. That's right — the land itself is moving upward.
Ice is heavy, so it's only logical that when it disappears, the material below it rises. But it's still tough to wrap your brain around the findings of three scientists who have shown that as Iceland's ice caps are melting, the land is rising — and fast.
Image: Aljo Hartgers on Flickr/CC.
This month, a study authored by a team from University of Arizona and University of Iceland shows exactly how dramatic the unexpected effects of climate change really are. The paper, Climate driven vertical acceleration of Icelandic crust measured by CGPS geodesy, analyzed data from GPS sensors all over Iceland to measure how much and how often those points of land moved (geodesy is the science of measuring the Earth's surface). The authors kept track of just how far the sensors shifted over time—and found that those data points told a fascinating and awful story.
Of the 62 sensors, 27 of them located in the center of Iceland where the most ice cover is located showed upward velocity, some as much as 1.4 inches a year. "Sites in central and southern Iceland, closest to the major ice caps, which measure the largest velocities and accelerations, also display the largest annual variations in vertical position," the authors explain in the paper, which will be published in Geophysical Research Letters but is available as a preview through a small paywall online.
It's a phenomenon called "uplift," and this isn't the first time it's been observed; after all, glaciers are disappearing all over the world. In 2009, The New York Times reported that the uplift in Alaska has been so fast, the sea level is dropping—an almost comically inverted version of how we normally think about climate change. In an online release about the study, University of Arizona's Mari N. Jensen explains further:
To determine whether the same rate of ice loss year after year could cause such an acceleration in uplift, Compton tested that idea using mathematical models. The answer was no: The glaciers had to be melting faster and faster every year to be causing more and more uplift.
If you need a further illustration of the domino-effect climate change is having on our world, the authors also talk about how the quick rise of Iceland could increase volcanic activity. Citing past work that suggests uplift createS volcanic activity, they add, almost as an afterthought, that the uplift could end up causing "higher volumes of erupted material, which could have global economic impacts."
Considering the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull cost airlines $1.7 billion in 2010, maybe the looming threat of plenty more economy-halting explosions will grab even the attention of big business (fat chance, right?). The entire paper is a fascinating read, you can check it out behind a small paywall or read the authors' press release here.