An outlet glacier in the Russian High Arctic, Vavilov Ice Cap, just demonstrated that cold-based glaciers, which usually are very stable and move slowly, can also exhibit sudden nonlinear change like warm-based glaciers in temperate areas.
Hundreds of cold-based glaciers line the coasts of Greenland, Antarctica, and islands in the high Arctic. Together they cover hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land. The events at Vavilov suggest that these glaciers may be less stable and resilient and more capable of collapsing and affecting sea level.
“This event has forced us to rethink how cold-based glaciers work,” Willis said. “It may be that they can respond more quickly to warming climate or changes at their bases than we have thought.”