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New Method Reveals How Greenland’s Ice Sheet Works

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12-scientistsusScientists from University of Montana and University of Wyoming applied a unique sampling method to collect data from deep into the ice core of the Greenland ice sheet. Their findings not only explain how the the ice body functions, but they could also contribute to improving existing climate prediction models.

 The study published earlier this week in the journal Science revealed the flow pattern of melted water under the ice sheet. The aim was to gain understanding of current processes that take place at this isolated location and use the findings to model future ice sheet behavior.

The researchers were able to establish this using a borehole drill designed by Neil Humphrey, one of the co-authors and professor at UW. The team of only eight scientists- two professors, two PhD students, two graduate and two undergraduate students, collected measurements from 23 locations, where boreholes were melted. They measured the pressure and flow conditions of the water flowing under the ice sheet. The instrument was transported to and from each location by a helicopter or it was carried by the team in short distances.

After detailed analysis of the collected data, the team was able to identify gaps in current methods and models. They established that a variety of processes have not been previously taken into consideration including ice sheet acceleration, which leads to expansion of the drainage network.

With current rates of global warming and Arctic ice melt, such studies are of crucial importance. Scientists tend to neglect the basic and yet so fundamental physical processes, which control the movement of ice sheets, due to underground melted water. Exactly these, however, are the what determines future sea level rise.

Producing accurate prediction models would be the key to understanding the basic principles of the climate system and how it would change with increase in future temperatures.

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