Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bridge Over Troubled Water: Glacier Melt Takes Out Greenland Bridge and Roads

In what could be a sobering and frightening preview of things yet to come, a runaway glacier melt has washed away an important bridge and roadway in Greenland.

The glacier melted in only four days. The glacier normally retreats during the northern hemisphere summer months, but the melt this summer has been unprecedented. NASA imagery from space showed the Russell Glacier had melted by some 40% on July 8. The same satellite imagery from only four days later shows that the glacier had melted by an astonishing 97%, which would break all previous records according to climatologists studying the effects of climate change.

The incredible burst of fresh water took out the vital bridge over the Watson River at Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, an important part of the infrastructure used by scientists and locals alike to cross the glacier river. The bridge and roadways also link to the island's largest airport. This sudden melt-off follows another recent incident, where the Petermann glacier in Greenland collapsed, with an ice chunk twice the size of the island of Manhattan breaking away from the ice shelf.

The bridge was constructed during the 1950s, but can no longer handle the summer glacier run off due to the changing climate conditions in the region. Replacement of the bridge and roadways could costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

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