Never-Seen-Before 'Massive Lake' Trapped Under Greenland Ice!

  • Dec, 23, 2013, 09:44 PM

A massive reservoir of melt water is trapped underneath the frozen landscape of the Greenland ice sheet, where temperatures often hover below zero degrees Fahrenheit, according to new analysis.

Researchers from the University of Utah discovered the huge aquifer while drilling for core samples in 2011.

The gigantic reservoir was found to be roughly 27,000 square miles, an area about the size of Ireland, the researchers using ice-penetrating radar.

The find could have major implications for understanding sea level rise.

During two drills, when researchers pulled up the equipment, it was pouring liquid water, despite air temperatures in the area were around minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The water was found at a depth of 33 feet in the first drill and 82 feet in the second, according to the study published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"This discovery was a surprise," Rick Forster, lead author and professor of geography at the University of Utah, said in a statement. "Instead of the water being stored in the air space between subsurface rock particles, the water is stored in the air space between the ice particles, like the juice in a snow cone."

Generally, the researchers found layers of dry snow in a drilling expedition. Moreover, it was early spring, so there was no possibility for surface melt to seep in through the cracks. Therefore, researchers concluded that the water remained trapped underneath the surface year-round.

"Of the current sea level rise, the Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest contributor - and it is melting at record levels," Forster said. "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 meltwater runoff and sea levels."

National Geographic reported earlier that the global sea levels have risen drastically over the last few decades. In fact, in the 1990s alone, Earth's oceans have risen by .14 inches, which is twice faster that the level rise rates of the 1980s.

Rising sea levels are the consequences of three major factors.

The first is thermal expansion, which occurs as water heats up; the second is melting ice caps and glaciers; and the third is ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica.

Greenland ice sheet lost 34 billion tons of ice per year between 1992 and 2001, BBC noted. That amount increased to 215 billion tons between 2002 and 2011. The new discovery could mean that a good amount of this melted ice is being stored under the ice sheets.

The new research suggests that a significant amount of the melt is still being stored within the Greenland ice sheet. If the melt water is allowed to escape, it could contribute greatly to global sea level rise.

"Most models assume water runs off or refreezes," Forster told Discovery News. "Is this water buffering sea-level rise? Or is it already connected and passing through and there's just a delay? Right now we don't know. It may be something in between."

"We don't know the answer to this right now. It's massive, it's a new system we haven't seen before - we need to understand it more completely if we are to predict sea level rise," he added in a statement.




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