Sous l’effet du réchauffement climatique, les glaciers du Groenland fondent. Et les scénarios les plus défavorables estiment que le phénomène contribuera à une élévation du niveau de la mer allant jusqu’à 15 millimètres d’ici 2100. Mais des chercheurs préviennent aujourd’hui que ces modèles pourraient sous-estimer la perte de masse glaciaire.

Le Jakobshavn est tout simplement le plus gros glacier du Groenland. Celui qui se déplace le plus rapidement. Celui aussi qui a donné naissance à quelques impressionnants icebergs, ces dernières années. Le Kangerlussuaq est le plus gros de sa côte est. Et dans la même région, le glacier Helheim est tout simplement l’un des plus importants systèmes d’exutoire en eau solidifiée du Groenland.

Tous les trois ont ceci en commun qu’ils sont mis en grave danger par le réchauffement climatique. S’appuyant non seulement sur les données satellites les plus récentes, mais aussi sur des photographies et des relevés remontant au début du XXe siècle, des chercheurs de l’université technique du Danemark montrent qu’ils ont déjà subi un recul insoupçonné.

Depuis la fin du XIXe siècle, le glacier Jakobshavn aurait ainsi perdu pas moins de 1,5 million de millions de tonnes de glace. Le glacier Helheim n’en a perdu « que » 31 milliards de tonnes. Une bosse dans le substrat rocheux sur lequel repose le glacier Kangerlussuaq l’a un temps protégé. Mais une fois le front du glacier disparu, les eaux chaudes ont pu faire leur œuvre et creuser peu à peu la glace.

Les chercheurs estiment qu’au cours de la dernière décennie, la fonte de ces glaciers est, à elle seule, responsable d’une élévation du niveau de la mer de 8,1 millimètres. Mais ce qui apparaît encore plus inquiétant, c’est que cette étude suggère que les modèles climatiques actuels sous-estiment très probablement ce qui se passera dans le futur. Par manque de données d’entrée très précises et par difficulté à intégrer les différents facteurs et les rétroactions qui affectent la fonte des glaces.

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