Although in the past few decades the Arctic has warmed much faster than the rest of the world, with Iceland’s glaciers losing an average of 11 gigatons of ice per year from 1995 to 2010, starting from 2010 the speed of Iceland’s melting has significantly slowed, resulting in about half as much annual ice loss. This trend has not been seen in nearby, larger glaciers across Greenland or Svalbard.
According to a new study led by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, a region of cooling water in the North Atlantic Ocean near Iceland, colloquially called the “Blue Blob,” has likely slowed the melting of this island’s glaciers since 2011. Cooler waters are linked to lower air temperatures over Iceland’s glaciers and coincide with the significant slowdown of glacial melting observed after 2011.
This cold patch was most prominent during the winter of 2014-2015, when the sea surface temperature was approximately 1.4 degrees Celsius colder than normal, even as the ocean temperatures around this region increased due to climate change. While the origin and cause of the Blue Blob are still being investigated, some scientists argue that it is part of the normal sea surface temperature variability in the Arctic caused by the complex circulation of deep currents in the ocean.
The scientists predict that this chilly seawater patch may persist in the North Atlantic, sparing Iceland’s glaciers until about 2050. However, between 2050 and 2100, ocean and air temperatures are predicted to increase substantially, leading to accelerated melting that will probably cause the loss of a third of this region’s glacial ice by the end of the century. By 2300, Iceland’s 3,400 cubic kilometers of ice will likely melt completely.
“It’s crucial to have an idea of the possible feedbacks in the Arctic because it’s a region that is changing so fast. It’s important to know what we can expect in a future warmer climate,” said study lead author Brice Noël, a climate modeler specializing in polar ice sheets and glaciers at Utrecht University.
“In the end, the message is still clear. The Arctic is warming fast. If we wish to see glaciers in Iceland, then we have to curb the warming,” he concluded.
The study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.