Greenland ice sheet’s first ever 3D comprehensive map created

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For the first-time ever scientists have managed to create a comprehensive 3D map of layers of ice inside the Greenland ice sheet using ice-penetrating radar data.

The new map, prepared by scientists at University of Texas using data collected by NASA’s Operation IceBridge and earlier airborne campaigns, will enable scientists to determine the age of large swaths of Greenland’s ice that contains enough water to raise ocean levels by as much as 20 feet.

“This new, huge data volume records how the ice sheet evolved and how it’s flowing today,” said Joe MacGregor, glaciologist at the University of Texas at Austin and the study’s lead author.

The ice sheet has been losing mass over the past two decades and warming temperatures will mean more losses for Greenland. Scientists are studying ice from different climate periods in the past to better understand how the ice sheet might respond in the future.

Greenland ice 3D

Ice-penetrating radar works by sending radar signals into the ice and recording the strength and return time of reflected signals. From those signals, scientists can detect the ice surface, sub-ice bedrock and layers within the ice.

“IceBridge surveyed previously unexplored parts of the Greenland Ice Sheet and did it using state-of-the-art CReSIS radars,” said Mark Fahnestock, glaciologist from the Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

IceBridge’s flight lines often intersect ice core sites where other scientists have analyzed the ice’s chemical composition to map and date layers in the ice.

This information will be helpful for evaluating the more sophisticated ice sheet models that are crucial for projecting Greenland’s future contribution to sea-level rise.

This study appeared online in the Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface.