“Like many others, I had in mind the ongoing dramatic retreat and speedup along the edges of the ice sheet, so I’d assumed that the interior was faster now too. But it wasn’t,” said MacGregor.
The authors identified three causes for this deceleration. First is that snowfall rates were generally higher during the past 9,000 years, second is the slow stiffening of the ice sheet over time, and third is the collapse of an “ice bridge” that used to connect Greenland’s ice to that on nearby Ellesmere Island. Of most interest were the last two.
“The ice that formed from snow that fell in Greenland during the last ice age is about three times softer than the ice being formed today,” according to William Colgan of York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, a co-author of the study.
Because of this difference, the ice sheet is slowly becoming stiffer. As a consequence, the ice sheet is flowing more slowly and getting thicker over time. This effect is most important in southern Greenland, where higher snowfall rates have led to rapid replacement of ice from the last glacial period with more modern Holocene ice.