Meltwater’s Year-Round Life Beneath Greenland Ice Revealed by Radar

Source: Phys.org/Columbia University - January 6, 2017 in Science/Tech

Meltwater’s Year-Round Life Beneath Greenland Ice Revealed by Radar
Photo: NASA DMS Team/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When summer temperatures rise in Greenland and the melt season begins, water pools on the surface, and sometimes disappears down holes in the ice. That water may eventually reach bedrock, creating a slipperier, faster slide for glaciers. But where does it go once it gets there, and what happens to it in the winter? A new study helps answer these questions.

Scientists have been able to observe liquid  at single points by drilling holes, but those observations are limited. An improved technique developed by a  at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and her colleagues is now expanding that view across entire regions, and across seasons for the first time, by making it possible to use airborne ice-penetrating radar to reveal ‘s life under the ice throughout the year.

The first results, just published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reveal extensive winter water storage beneath the ice. They suggest that glaciers’ response to melting depends not only on the rate at which meltwater flows down, but also on the amount of water stored beneath the ice through the winter, and on the topography and permeability of the land below, said the study’s lead author, Columbia graduate student Winnie Chu.

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