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Hidden Greenland canyons mean more sea level rise

19 May 2014

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Scientists at NASA and the University of California, Irvine (UCI), have found that canyons under Greenland's ocean-feeding glaciers are deeper and longer than previously thought, increasing the amount of Greenland's estimated contribution to future sea level rise.

"The glaciers of Greenland are likely to retreat faster and farther inland than anticipated, and for much longer, according to this very different topography we have discovered," said Mathieu Morlighem, a UCI associate project scientist who is lead author of the new research paper. The results were published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Ice loss from Greenland has accelerated during the last few decades. However, older ice sheet models predicted the speedup would be temporary because the glaciers would soon melt back onto higher ground and stabilize. The models projected that Greenland's contribution to global sea level rise would therefore be limited.

Morlighem's new topography shows southern Greenland's ragged, crumbling coastline is scored by more than 100 canyons beneath glaciers that empty into the ocean. Many canyons are well below sea level as far as 60 miles (100 kilometres) inland. Higher ground, where glaciers could stabilize, is much farther from the coastline than previously thought. The finding calls into question the idea that the recent accelerated ice loss will be short lived.

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Image credit: NASA - Maps of Greenland bedrock

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