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In warmer climates, Greenlandic deltas have grown

New analysis of 75-year-old aerial photos confirms climate-related changes

October 4, 2017
University of Colorado at Boulder
Unlike most other deltas worldwide, Greenland's are growing -- a trend with major consequences for both fishing and tourism.

Deltas are important ecosystems, where freshwater meets the sea, and where people for centuries have been engaged in agriculture and fishing. Today, most of the deltas in the world are drowning because of increased human exploitation and a rise in the global sea level. In an article just published in Nature, a research team led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen has shown that deltas in Greenland, unlike most other deltas, are growing.

The team of researchers included Mette Bendixen and Lars L. Iversen from the University of Copenhagen, University of Colorado Boulder postdoctoral researcher Katy Barnhart -- in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences -- and other Danish, American and Greenlandic scientists.

"We examined 121 deltas by looking at historical aerial photos taken by the American army during the Second World War" Bendixen said. "We compared these with modern satellite photos. In this way, we have been able to track changes in the Greenland deltas and see what has happened over the last 75 years."

The growing deltas are affecting the infrastructure in Greenland with major consequences for both fishing and tourism. The results from the study have altered our previous understanding of how the Arctic coast reacts to climate change.

"Our study shows how climate change affects environmental processes in the Arctic landscape. As a consequence of the warmer temperatures, more sediment is transported out to the coast. At the same time, the open-water period has been extended, and the material is therefore deposited in the deltas. And in this way, the deltas are growing," says Associate Professor Aart Kroon.

"Large parts of the Arctic coasts are being eroded, but in Greenland, we see the opposite happening. The study shows that climate change in the Arctic affects the coasts in a different way to what we have seen so far," said Bendixen.

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Materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Mette Bendixen, Lars Lønsmann Iversen, Anders Anker Bjørk, Bo Elberling, Andreas Westergaard-Nielsen, Irina Overeem, Katy R. Barnhart, Shfaqat Abbas Khan, Jason E. Box, Jakob Abermann, Kirsty Langley, Aart Kroon. Delta progradation in Greenland driven by increasing glacial mass loss. Nature, 2017; 550 (7674): 101 DOI: 10.1038/nature23873

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University of Colorado at Boulder. "In warmer climates, Greenlandic deltas have grown." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2017. <>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2017, October 4). In warmer climates, Greenlandic deltas have grown. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2024 from
University of Colorado at Boulder. "In warmer climates, Greenlandic deltas have grown." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 24, 2024).

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