Since exploration and experimentation began in the 1970s, radar has been used consistently to attempt to measure the topography of Greenland’s terrain. In 2009, NASA created a new operation—IceBridge flights, which has provided a better picture than the previously relied upon radar; in the last five years, measurements of Greenland’s topography have tripled, under this new system. However, according to Mathieu Morlighem, a UC Irvine associate project scientist, even the updated flight system provided by NASA left gaps in research. Therefore, through a collaborative effort between UC Irvine and NASA glaciologists, research was conducted on the topography of Greenland’s terrain that revealed previously undiscovered valleys that raise concern for melting ice sheets. The research was originally published in the journal Nature Geoscience and was recently summarized in an article completed by Science Daily.
To resolve the gaps left by NASA’s procedures, Morlighem developed his own breakthrough method of measuring that offers a first time view of Greenland’s entire periphery. The method is designed based on a “mass conservation algorithm,” which combines the previous data on ice thickness with information gathered on the velocity and direction of movement. On top of this, Morlighem also considered estimates in snowfall and surface melt.
The picture drawn by the combination of this data indicates that glaciers that were once thought to reside merely on the very edge of Greenland actually stretch almost sixty-five miles inland via valleys that fall under the Greenland Ice Sheet. Bedrock canyons sit below sea level, which makes the terrains vulnerable to subtropical Atlantic waters. These waters travel through the canyons to reach hundreds of glaciers, causing massive erosion that will exceed any and every previous expectation, resulting in far greater amounts of water. This renders an old theory null in void; researchers had once believed that a higher ground would eventually be reach and ocean melting would cease. Now, Morlighem’s statistics indicate that nearly the very opposite should be expected.
The research will provide future endeavors in Greenland with unprecedented tools of measure. Hopefully, with these new tools, the situation can be monitored closer than it has ever been previously.