Ecocentric

A Newly Discovered Underground Lake in Greenland Will Help Us Understand Climate Change

An aquifer bigger than West Virginia has been found underneath the ice in Greenland. What that means for the rising seas.

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Ludovic Brucker

An ice core segment with water taken from the underground aquifer discovered in Greenland.

The Earth may be more than 4.5 billion years old, but it can still surprise us. Scientists have discovered a gigantic liquid water reservoir underneath Greenland’s massive ice sheet. (The discovery was reported in an article in this week’s edition of Nature Geoscience.) Uncovered accidentally by a team of glaciologists who were drilling ice cores in southeastern Greenland in 2011, the aquifer is more than 27,000 sq. miles (69,930 sq. km) large—bigger than West Virginia—according to data from NASA’s Operation Icebridge radar. And until recently, no one had any idea it was there.

That’s because, on the surface at least, it shouldn’t be there. Temperatures in Greenland are well below freezing most of the year, which is why much of the island is covered by a sheet of ice that is more than a mile (1.6 km) thick. Yet when the glaciologists drilling in 2011—led by the University of Utah’s Rick Forster—extracted their deep ice cores, they were surprised to find them dripping with liquid water, despite temperatures that were below 0º F (-18º C). Later research—carried out in April 2013 with Lora Koenig, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center—found that the temperature in the aquifer stayed around 32º F (0º C), just above freezing. It’s possible that the heavy snow cover in southeastern Greenland may act as insulation for the aquifer—a literal blanket of snow—preventing it from freezing.

(PHOTO: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers)

The volume of the aquifer—which is fed by meltwater that flows through the Greenland ice sheet—is immense, an estimated 154 billion tons of water. That would be enough by itself to raise global sea levels by 0.016 in (.04 cm) were the entire underground lake to flow into the oceans. That may not sound like a whole lot—the seas already rise by more than that amount each year, thanks to melting ice sheets and thermal expansion of warming seawater—but the discovery of the aquifer should  help scientists better understand how melt water moves through the Greenland ice sheet.

That’s important because as the climate has warmed, the pace of ice loss in Greenland has accelerated, from 121 billion tons a year from 1993 to 2005 to 229 billion tons a year between 2005 and 2010. Better understanding of the physics governing the way the ice sheet, snow and meltwater interact could help scientists predict how Greenland will respond to warming in the future. And that matters because—never mind the fraction of an inch of sea level rise the newly discovered lake could cause—there’s enough frozen water locked in Greenland’s ice sheet to raise global sea levels by more than 20 ft. (6 m) were it all to melt. Scientists may like surprises when they’re discovering an underground lake, but when it comes to the threat of climate change, a little certainty would be preferable.

(PHOTOS: Greenland Odyssey)

(MORE on Climate Change: A Timelapse of Columbia Glacier)

228 comments
glubber
glubber

Bryan!  The water is heaviest at 4 degrees C!!!!

MichaelCollins
MichaelCollins

The climate change deniers appearing in 5...4....3.....2....

Jhonathan
Jhonathan

The weather was changing in every were in world And that's a bad news because if the ice was melt.


(www.newsline77.com) Weather Updates

tomakay1
tomakay1

Well, we can all agree that ice is cold.

RobertMuldhoon
RobertMuldhoon

Antarctic sea ice has grown to a record large extent for a second straight year = source Washington Post


On Saturday, the ice extent reached 19.51 million square kilometers, according to data posted on the National Snow and Ice Datt Center website.  That number bested record high levels set earlier this month and in 2012 (of 19.48 million square kilometers). Records date back to October 1978.

RobertMuldhoon
RobertMuldhoon

The Arctic minimum was its highest in 18 years this year.  The Antarctic ice pack is growing in the summer right now and is now larger than at any time in the last 30 years.  But alarmists still don't understand the science.

RobertMuldhoon
RobertMuldhoon

anyone who thinks the earth is warming denies true science

caseydcaldwell
caseydcaldwell

The earth IS warming. Anyone who cannot see that is blind, stupid, or both. The human mind has an innate ability to live in denial. I didn't want to accept it either, but its true.

Bugsy
Bugsy

Lefties, stop wasting your time trying to explain climate science 101 to the denier trolls on this thread.  Conservatives are UNable to comprehend even 4th grade science, even if they are very competent in math and logic, IF it disagrees with their preferred idealogical position.  Somebody actually did a cool study to prove this.  The title is: Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government.  Go ogle it. 

dukeofparma
dukeofparma

Further proof that scientists are not as omniscient as the warmers would have one believe.

OurConstitution
OurConstitution

Let me get this straight. Sea levels will rise 20 feet if water from a lake the size of Illinois is somehow dispensed into our planet's oceans that cover 75% of the earth? Somebody better go back to basic forth grade math before spouting off numbers like these.

kingofthenet
kingofthenet

I bet that water would make some GOOD Vodka, and blow 'Poland Springs' away.

jdk47
jdk47

@MichaelCollinsApparently a global warming religious fanatic beat them there...Maybe if you burned some witches like they did in the 1600s it would help stop the global warming...just like it helped stop the Little Ice Age then...

Sisko
Sisko

What is a "climate denier"? Is it anyone who might disagree with your personal beliefs? Real science does not know the rate of warming associated with CO2 sufficiently to know if it is a problem or a net benefit. It is unknown which nations will benefit vs. being harmed. There is zero reliable evidence of any increase in the rate of sea level rise due to AGW.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

@RobertMuldhoon  How about a demonstration of the Greenhouse effect.   On a warm summer day, place a plastic bag over your head.  Tie it securely around your neck.  Notice each time you exhale the amount of CO2 increases and it gets warmer, after several minutes, it's dramatically warmer.   It's important not to remove the bag at this point.  Shortly, thereafter, you will die demonstrating how global warming will lead to mass extinction.  



THEEVANTHETOON
THEEVANTHETOON

@RobertMuldhoon  

Check out this article: http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice.htm. You are correct that the sea-ice has expanded. However, increasing sea ice isn't necessarily evidence for "global cooling," contrary to your assertions. For example, sea ice can increase because of a decrease in the salinity and an increase in the acidity of the ocean, both of which are results of climate change. A much better measurement of warming is Antarctic land-ice, which has slowly accumulated over the centuries. This ice has been drastically melting in the last few decades, increasing the amount of fresh-water in the ocean and thus, the amount of sea-ice.

iMaximusRex
iMaximusRex

@RobertMuldhoon The Antarctic Ocean is also at its warmest on Record, and Antarctic land ice is at its lowest levels.  Ocean temperatures and air current cause greater precipitation, causing greater accumulation of fresh water at the surface, creating a colder thermal layer that doesn't mix easily with salty sea water.  Fresh water also freezes easier than salt water.


I would say its you who doesn't understand the science.

jdk47
jdk47

@RobertMuldhoonYou're wasting your breath. Global warming fanatics are a religious cult. They don't believe in science or facts, they just twist things to fit their religious faith that man is omnipotent and therefore responsible for everything, good and bad, that happens on Earth. 


They are the same type of people and of the same mindset as those who burned witches in the 1600s an an attempt to reverse the Little Ice Age that was ruining their crops at the time. They've just found different witches this time. 


But they will never admit they are wrong, no matter what the facts say.

Starhouse
Starhouse

@BugsyIt is called Greenland for a reason. It used to be green 900 years ago. So sheeple go follow your leader.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

@dukeofparma How about a demonstration of the Greenhouse effect.   On a warm summer day, place a plastic bag over your head.  Tie it securely around your neck.  Notice each time you exhale the amount of CO2 increases and it gets warmer, after several minutes, it's dramatically warmer.   It's important not to remove the bag at this point.  Shortly, thereafter, you will die demonstrating how global warming will lead to mass extinction.  

DavidCramer
DavidCramer

@dukeofparma No one says scientists are omniscient. But admitting that they don't know everything isn't the same as saying they know nothing. Honestly, it doesn't matter whether you believe in global warming or not. Given the choice of polluting like China, or trying to keep the environment as clean as we reasonably can, I would hope that you would choose clean air over smog, and clean water over the industrial waste they are forced to drink.

satrams
satrams

@BillBooth It doesn't matter what Leonard Nimoy was saying in the 1970's!  It's 2014!!  Scientists have learned a lot in 30 years about  a lot of things.

Bugsy
Bugsy

@BillBooth Leonard Nimoy is an ACTOR.  You do know that, right?  Actual scientists have understood since the industrial revolution that burning fossil fuels releases CO2 that can cause climate warming.

Quixocrates
Quixocrates

@Sisko  The point of climate concerns are based on how we've changed the earth over the past 100 years, not about what the earth has previously done naturally. Sure climate changes can happen in cycles and those cycles are likely so long that we can't easily get a good idea of what to expect, so expeditions like this one to Greenland are crucial to getting a look into that global climate process. What's so troubling about "climate change deniers" is that they ignore the obvious difference: massive, large scale industrial activity. We humans have changed the flow of energy and chemistry on this planet so much that we've actually entered a new geological era based on the influence of man (google "anthropocene"). Therefore, it's logically a big part of the industrial business agenda to suppress discussion about just how much influence their activities might have on the global climate flows and for those who are not a part of that agenda to repeat those words and ideas, especially with passion, is downright confusing and frustrating.

todd187
todd187

@Starhouse @Bugsy Wrong.  It was called Greenland by the vikings to mislead other explorers to go there rather than going to Iceland.

Starhouse
Starhouse

@BugsyI guess there was a great modern world just before the ice age.

satrams
satrams

@Quixocrates @Sisko I agree with your take completely.  I don't understand the motivation of 'conservatives' who aren't rich business owners or investors to feel the need to deny climate change!  What is in it for them?  Is it just what they are being told to say by their politicians and the people on Fox News?

Maybe some of you guys who AREN"T TROLLS might give me a little insight into why you have your views denying climate change- not putting up shady articles and bizarre references.  What's in it for you?  Why is science considered 'left wing'?


You guys do understand that 90% of legitimate scientists out there at this point all agree that Man-Made Climate Change is happening.  How could it not?  Think about all the heating of the earth we do in so many ways that would not be there without our industrialized society, and even our roads and our house, even without all the CO2 we are creating.

EvinAR
EvinAR

@RobertMuldhoon@THEEVANTHETOON Factually incorrect but nice try

RobertMuldhoon
RobertMuldhoon

@THEEVANTHETOON@RobertMuldhoon

The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year. More than 20 yachts that had planned to sail it have been left ice-bound and a cruise ship attempting the route was forced to turn back.

Some eminent scientists now believe the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century – a process that would expose computer forecasts of imminent catastrophic warming as dangerously misleading.



THEEVANTHETOON
THEEVANTHETOON

@RobertMuldhoon @THEEVANTHETOON 

"real science" = quote-on-quote "research" from quote-on-quote "scientists" funded by multinational corporations and the Koch brothers who don't want to lose profit because of environmental regulations