Scientists mapping Greenland have produced some surprising – and worrying – results

Scientists mapping Greenland have produced some surprising – and worrying – results

SOURCE: Washington Post DATE: October 4, 2017 SNIP: Two new studies of Greenland, using sophisticated technologies and large scientific teams to pull together and process the data, have now gone further in taking the full measure of the island through that ever-so-basic scientific act: mapping. The first, a comprehensive seabed mapping project, relying in part on new data from NASA’s OMG (“Oceans Melting Greenland”) mission, concludes that the Greenland ice sheet is far more exposed to the planet’s warming oceans than previously known — and has more ice to give up than, until now, has been recognized. The new research finds that “between 30 and 100% more glaciers are potentially exposed to [warm Atlantic water] than suggested by previous mapping, which represents 55% of the ice sheet’s total drainage area.” In other words, more than half of Greenland’s ice lies in or flows through areas that could be influenced by warming seas. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a separate team of scientists used another quite different large-scale mapping exercise to document a surprising — but closely related — change in Greenland’s above-water topography. Publishing in the journal Nature, they showed that the contours of the huge island are changing because with all the ice melt rushing from glaciers to the sea, river deltas are expanding outward — a rare occurrence these days when deltas around the world are generally retreating, threatened by rising seas (think of the Mississippi River delta, for instance, and its vanishing wetlands). “Over the period of the 1980s to 2010s, rapid increase of meltwater and sediment fluxes caused dramatic advance of these deltas into the ocean,” said...
Narwhals Are Helping NASA Understand Melting Ice and Rising Seas

Narwhals Are Helping NASA Understand Melting Ice and Rising Seas

SOURCE: Bloomberg DATE: August 24, 2017 SNIP: Greenland’s ice cap holds beneath it 10 percent of the earth’s freshwater, enough to raise global sea levels by 20 feet. While there’s no doubt it is melting, scientists have little certainty about exactly what’s happening inside this 10,000-year-old ice roughly three times the size of Texas. Last winter was the warmest on record in the Arctic, and as Greenland heats up, understanding this glaciate has become essential to navigating our future. That’s why scientists need narwhals, whales with 9 foot long unicorn-like tusks, which are some of the only mammals benefiting from all that melting ice. “The narwhals like it,” said Josh Willis, the project lead for NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland. When melting ice falls into the sea, it churns up the water, bringing such food as plankton and krill to the surface. The whales tend to feed at the bottom of melting glaciers and can dive to depths of 1,800 meters, precisely the areas that OMG needs to survey. It’s a perfect match. So far, OMG has measured Greenland’s seafloor and mapped the continental shelf, a crucial piece in the melt puzzle. “Ancient glaciers carved these troughs through the continental shelf,” Willis said. The channels allow warm water to flow between the glaciers, eating away at the ice. Unfortunately, “a lot more of these glaciers sit in deeper water than we expected,” he...
Greenland Fires Ignite Climate Change Fears

Greenland Fires Ignite Climate Change Fears

SOURCE: AGU Eos DATE: Aug 11, 2017 SNIP: In a real clash of fire and ice, a massive wildfire in southern Greenland has captured the world’s attention. Although the current fire’s cause remains a mystery, peat from thawed permafrost could be its fuel, said Jessica McCarty, a geographer at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who specializes in geospatial analysis of wildfires. Permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, lies under multiple meters of an “active” soil layer that thaws seasonally. But in certain areas, when ice within the thawing permafrost layer melts, it can expose peat, a material that forms after decomposing plants get smashed down for centuries. The peat is made up of organic matter, most notably carbon, McCarty said. Given how readily it burns, she added, it’s almost like one giant charcoal briquette. If the fire is being fueled by thawed permafrost, there may be underlying climate change implications, McCarty continued. “The climate change [connection] is that there would be no fires here in Greenland if there were no fuel, and the only way that there’s fuel is if the permafrost is [thawed].” “Personally, this is very disturbing to me,” McCarty said, because the fire indicates significant permafrost degradation “sooner than [scientists] thought it would happen.” Researchers project significant permafrost loss in Greenland by the end of the century. Not 2017, she...
There’s a Wildfire Burning in West Greenland Right Now

There’s a Wildfire Burning in West Greenland Right Now

SOURCE: Climate Central and Think Progress DATE: Aug 7, 2017 UPDATE: There are actually two wildfires burning in Greenland. SOURCE: Wild Fire Today SNIP: It’s not just the American West and British Columbia burning up. A fire has sparked in western Greenland, an odd occurrence for an island known more for ice than fire. A series of blazes is burning roughly in the vicinity of Kangerlussuaq, a small town that serves as a basecamp for researchers in the summer to access Greenland’s ice sheet and western glaciers. The largest fire has burned roughly 3,000 acres and sent smoke spiraling a mile into the sky, prompting hunting and hiking closures in the area, according to local news reports. There’s no denying that it’s weird to be talking about wildfires in Greenland because ice covers the majority of the island. Forests are basically nonexistent and this fire appears to be burning through grasses, willows and other low-slung vegetation on the tundra that makes up the majority of the land not covered by...
Greenland Ice Sheet Likely Contains High Levels Of Anthropogenic Pollutants

Greenland Ice Sheet Likely Contains High Levels Of Anthropogenic Pollutants

SOURCE: Clean Technica DATE: Aug 6, 2017 SNIP: The Greenland ice sheet is likely to be heavily contaminated with various globally emitted pollutants — such as PCBs, mercury, lead, PAHs, etc. — according to new research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. So, despite its image as a relatively pristine environment, Greenland is already heavily contaminated by industrial activity, which means that, as the ice sheet there thaws, surrounding waters are going to experience an influx of dangerous pollutants. This isn’t too surprising, as much recent research has shown that the Arctic, owing to various patterns of atmospheric circulation, is now home to very high levels of industrially emitted mercury pollution. Other seemingly remote parts of the world, such as the Himalaya mountains, are also known to now be home (in the ice, snow pack, etc.) to very high levels of industrial pollutants. Lead researcher, Dr Aviaja Hauptmann of the University of Greenland, commented: “Globally emitted contaminants accumulate in the Arctic and are stored in the frozen environments of the cryosphere, essentially meaning they have become reservoirs of toxic...