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 said.