Iceland Is Rising, Literally - Pacific Standard

Iceland Is Rising, Literally

A new study shows that melting glaciers have contributed to a taller Iceland.
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Global warming has caused glacier ice at Iceland's Jokulsarlon lake to melt. (Photo: Michael Zysman/Shutterstock)

Global warming has caused glacier ice at Iceland's Jokulsarlon lake to melt. (Photo: Michael Zysman/Shutterstock)

Iceland is on the rise. No, I’m not referring to its extraordinary growth in tourism—Iceland is literally on the rise.

Kathleen Compton and Richard Bennett, geoscientists at University of Arizona, have observed that Iceland, an island country, is rising at a remarkable rate as a result of melting glaciers. As the surrounding ice caps, acting as a massive weight, begin to disappear, the land itself rebounds and heads skyward.

While scientists have noticed the rise, or uplift, of Iceland for a while now, they weren't sure if it was caused by past or present deglaciation. Their paper, "Climate Driven Vertical Acceleration of Icelandic Crust Measured by CGPS Geodesy,” is the first research that unequivocally links the country’s recent accelerated uplift to the current melting of Icelandic ice caps.

Iceland, an island country, is rising at a remarkable rate as a result of melting glaciers. As the surrounding ice caps, acting as a massive weight, begin to disappear, the land itself rebounds and heads skyward.

As one might expect, the work involved in observing the physical change of an entire island nation takes time and collaboration. To observe the rise, Compton and Bennett utilized 62 existing GPS receivers scattered across Iceland, all of which were previously installed by nearly a dozen different universities from across the globe. Compton and Bennett's study, due out in Geophysical Research Letters, marks the first time data from these different GPS stations have been aggregated to this effect.

What they found was an unmistakable, and unprecedented, relationship between melting ice caps and the uplift of Iceland: It is melting, and reciprocally rising, faster than it has in 30 years.

“People have connected the dots between uplift and melting glaciers; that phenomenon has been observed in a lot of places around that word. Our contribution is really identifying the acceleration,” Compton says. “In central Iceland, we see as much as 35 millimeter, so about 1.4 inches, of uplift per year.”

Icelanders can breathe easy; this changing geography won't pose any real threat, according to the researchers. It's just another tangible showcase of the effects of global warming.

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