Perpetually massive, liquid lake found under Greenland
By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
12/26/2013 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
As they teach children in elementary school, in spite of their names, the nation of "Iceland" is beautiful and a verdant green; "Greenland" is icy and remote. Their names, children are taught, were in order to throw explorers off so those who discovered Iceland could keep it all to themselves! However - a perpetually liquid lake has been discovered under Greenland, giving scientists pause.
There is a sense of urgency about the discovery. The consequences of losing the Greenland Ice Sheet could be catastrophic.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The massive, 43,500 square kilometer body of water is known as a "perennial firn aquifer." It remains liquid year-round despite the otherwise perpetually frozen landscape.
The discovery could have major implications for understanding sea level rise. According to researchers at the University of Utah, "Large amounts of snow fall on the surface late in the summer and quickly insulates the water from the subfreezing air temperatures above, allowing the water to persist all year long," Rick Forster, lead author and professor of geography at the University of Utah says.
Sprawling, the Greenland Ice Sheet covers roughly the same area as the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah combined. The average thickness of the ice is 5,000 feet. The ice sheet lost volume of 60 cubic miles, in 2012 was a record for melt and runoff.
"Of the current sea level rise, the Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest contributor - and it is melting at record levels," Forster says. "So understanding the aquifer's capacity to store water from year to year is important because it fills a major gap in the overall equation of melt water runoff and sea levels."
Forster's team over the past three years has measured snow accumulation Greenland and its variables from year to year. The area they study covers 14 percent of southeast Greenland but receives 32 percent of the entire ice sheet's snowfall, but there has been little data gathered.
The team drilled core samples in three locations on the ice in 2010 for analysis. Returning the following year to approximately the same area, at a lower elevation, two of the core samples came to the surface. Liquid water poured off the drill as air temperatures were minus 20 degrees centigrade. Discovered at about 10 meters below the surface at the first hole and at 25 meters in the second hole, the water proved to be quite a surprise.
"Although water discharge from streams in winter had been previously reported, and snow temperature data implied small amounts of water, no one had yet reported observing water in the firn that had persisted through the winter," Forster says.
There is a sense of urgency about the discovery. The consequences of losing the Greenland Ice Sheet could be catastrophic. If all the water retained in the ice sheet melted, it is estimated that the global sea level would rise about six meters, Forster says. Maintaining a steady watch on ice formation, runoff amounts and how the water is moving is critical to accurately predicting sea level changes.
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