Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Creates Huge Waterfalls, Increasing Concerns About Sea Level Rise

Climate
Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Creates Huge Waterfalls, Increasing Concerns About Sea Level Rise
Meltwater forms on the Greenland ice sheet near Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier on Aug. 4, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Scientists in the Arctic watched a glacial lake in Greenland turn into a waterfall that drained five million cubic meters of water, or 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, in just five hours, worrying scientists that the world's second largest ice sheet is becoming unstable, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The waterfall that the scientists observed was triggered by cracks in the ice sheet. When those cracks form, massive amounts of lake water falls below the surface to the area beneath the ice. There the meltwater expands the lake by weakening the ice. In the new study, the researchers captured the lake draining when its edge met a fracture in the ice that had formed one year earlier, according to the study.

The scientists watched the water plummet more than 3,200 feet to the lowest layers of the glacier where the ice forms on top of bedrock. At the base layer, the water weakens the ice and helps it move out to sea, as The Washington Post reported.

The team of scientists, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge in England, captured the drone footage in July 2018. The research, using specially outfitted drones that captured drainage of a fairly small glacial lake, could help scientists better understand the relationship between surface water and the stability of the ice sheet. That, in turn, could help scientists improve their global sea rise projections, according to The Washington Post.

The researchers suggested that what they observed may represent an overlooked issue that is affecting the Greenland ice sheet.

"We propose that many lakes thought to drain slowly are, in fact, draining rapidly via hydrofracture. As such, rapid drainage events, and their net impact on ice sheet dynamics, are being notably underestimated," the study reads.

This means scientists may need to tweak their computer models to form a more accurate picture of the rate of melting and projections for sea level rise.

"We need to gain a more complete picture of these processes so that we can properly predict the impact of climate change on the Greenland Ice Sheet in the 21st century," said Thomas Chudley, the study's lead author from the University of Cambridge, to Newsweek.

Thousands of lakes form on the Greenland ice sheet every summer when the weather warms. Many of these lakes rapidly drain and create caverns called moulins. The water then winds its way down to the base of the ice sheet. The openings often stay that way through the warm season and capture streams and rivers that fall to the bottom of the ice sheet. Since the ice sheet is often over one kilometer thick, the water flowing into the moulins may be the world's largest waterfalls, according to a statement from the University of Cambridge.

"Previous research has shown that whilst only 3 percent percent of total surface melt is delivered to the bed via these drainage events, as much as 36 percent can continue to access the bed via moulins after the event," said Chudley to Newsweek. "Whilst satellite studies have previously estimated the number of lakes that rapidly drain to be between 10 to 30 percent, our lake drainage is actually small enough that it wouldn't be identified by these methods. So that suggests to us that there may be more of these rapid drainages — and the moulins that follow — than previously thought."

The scientists also found the water flow caused the ice's movement to speed up from 6.5 feet per day to over 16 feet per day. So much water seeped under the ice that it pushed the ice up about 1.6 feet. "We were also surprised to see that these impacts extended as far away as [2.4 miles] from the lake site itself, suggesting that these events can have quite widespread impacts in the short term," said Chudley to Newsweek.

Former U.S. Sec. of Energy Ernest Moniz listens during the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 on October 13, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Isaac Brekken / Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit

By Jake Johnson

Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Climate change can evoke intense feelings, but a conversational approach can help. Reed Kaestner / Getty Images

Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.

"It's easy to feel dwarfed in the context of such a global systemic issue," says psychologist Renée Lertzman.

She says that when people experience these feelings, they often shut down and push information away. So to encourage climate action, she advises not bombarding people with frightening facts.

"When we lead with information, we are actually unwittingly walking right into a situation that is set up to undermine our efforts," she says.

She says if you want to engage people on the topic, take a compassionate approach. Ask people what they know and want to learn. Then have a conversation.

This conversational approach may seem at odds with the urgency of the issue, but Lertzman says it can get results faster.

"When we take a compassion-based approach, we are actively disarming defenses so that people are actually more willing and able to respond and engage quicker," she says. "And we don't have time right now to mess around, and so I do actually come to this topic with a sense of urgency… We do not have time to not take this approach."

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

Trending

A rare North Atlantic right whale is seen off Cape Cod Bay on April 14, 2019 near Provincetown, Massachusetts. Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images

An extremely rare North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead off the North Carolina coast on Friday.

Read More Show Less
Sprinklers irrigate a field of onions near a Castilian village in Spain. According to a new study, the average farm size in the EU has almost doubled since the 1960s. miguelangelortega / Moment / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

A new report released Tuesday details the "shocking" state of global land equality, saying the problem is worse than thought, rising, and "cannot be ignored."

Read More Show Less
Members of the San Carlos Apache Nation protest to protect parts of Oak Flat from a copper mining company on July 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

In yet another attack on the environment before leaving office, the Trump administration is seeking to transfer ownership of San Carlos Apache holy ground in Oak Flat, Arizona, to a copper mining company.

Read More Show Less