UCI’s BedMachine ice mapping technique enabled the creation of a three-dimensional image of a portion of the northwest coast of Greenland.
Ocean bathymetry is shown in blue and ice surface topography are displayed in white and orange.
Mathieu Morlighem / UCI
UCI-created high-resolution charts will inform future ice and sea level forecasts
New maps of Greenland’s coastal seafloor and bedrock beneath its massive ice sheet show that two to four times as many coastal glaciers are at risk of accelerated melting as had previously been thought.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, NASA and 30 other institutions have published the most comprehensive, accurate and high-resolution relief maps ever made of Greenland’s bedrock and coastal seafloor.
Among the many data sources incorporated into the new maps is data from NASA’s Ocean Melting Greenland campaign.
Lead author Mathieu Morlighem of UCI had demonstrated in an earlier study that data from OMG’s survey of the shape and depth, or bathymetry, of the seafloor in Greenland’s fjords improved scientists’ understanding of both the coastline and the inland bedrock beneath glaciers that flow into the ocean.
That’s because the bathymetry at a glacier’s front limits the possibilities for the shape of bedrock farther upstream.
(a) Data coverage, including ice-penetrating radar measurements (Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, High CApability Radar Sounder, University of Denmark, Uppsala University, Pathfinder Advanced Radar Ice Sounder, Alfred Wegener Institute) and ocean bathymetry (from single-beam data in dark blue),
and (b) BedMachine v3 bed topography sources, which include mass conservation (MC), kriging, Greenland Ice Mapping Project (GIMP) (Howat et al., 2014), RTopo-2/IBCAO v3 (Jakobsson et al., 2012; Schaffer et al., 2016), and bathymetry data from multibeam and gravity inversions acquired after the compilation of IBCAO v3.
The nearer to the shoreline, the more valuable the bathymetry data are for understanding on-shore topography, Morlighem said.
“What made OMG unique compared to other campaigns is that they got right into the fjords, as close as possible to the glacier fronts. That’s a big help for bedrock mapping,” he added.
Additionally, the OMG campaign surveyed large sections of the Greenland coast for the first time ever.
In fjords for which there are no data, it’s difficult to estimate how deep the glaciers extend below sea level.
(a) BedMachine v3 bed topography (m), color coded between −1500 m and +1500 m with respect to mean sea level, with areas below sea level in blue
and (b) regions below sea level (light pink) that are connected to the ocean and maintain a depth below 200 m (dark pink) and that are continuously deeper than 300 m below sea level (dark red).
The thin white line shows the current ice sheet extent.
The OMG data are only one of many datasets Morlighem and his team used in the ice sheet mapper, which is named BedMachine.
Another comprehensive source is NASA’s Operation IceBridge airborne surveys.
IceBridge measures the ice sheet thickness directly along a plane’s flight path.
This creates a set of long, narrow strips of data rather than a complete map of the ice sheet.
Savissuaq Gletscher area in the GeoGarage platform (DGA chart)
Besides NASA, almost 40 other international collaborators also contributed various types of survey data on different parts of Greenland.
No survey, not even OMG, covers every glacier on Greenland’s long, convoluted coastline.
To infer the bed topography in sparsely studied areas, BedMachine averages between existing data points using physical principles such as the conservation of mass.
Bed topography for different sectors of Greenland:
(a) the region of Savissuaq Gletscher, (b) Hayes Gletscher, (c) Illullip Sermia, (d) Mogens Heinesen N, (e) Heimdal Gletscher, and (f) Skinfaxe.
The yellow/red lines indicate the ice front position between 1985 and today from Landsat data, and the white dotted line shows the profile used in Figure 1.
The topography is color coded between −700 m and 800 m, and contours are shown every 200 m from −800 m to 200 m above sea level.
Some glaciers, such as the one 10 km northwest of Heimdal Gletscher, were not mapped using MC.
The new maps reveal that two to four times more oceanfront glaciers extend deeper than 600 feet (200 meters) below sea level than earlier maps showed.
That’s bad news, because the top 600 feet of water around Greenland comes from the Arctic and is relatively cold.
The water below it comes from farther south and is 6 to 8 eight degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the water above.
Deeper-seated glaciers are exposed to this warmer water, which melts them more rapidly.
Surface and bed topography along six profiles (see white dotted lines in Figure 2) from this study (solid black) and bed from B2013 (dotted red, Bamber et al., 2013) and RTopo-2 (dotted yellow, Schaffer et al., 2016). Multibeam bathymetry data (MBES) are shown in blue.
The vertical lines show the ice front position between 1995 and today.
Morlighem’s team used the maps to refine their estimate of Greenland’s total volume of ice and its potential to add to global sea level rise if the ice were to melt completely, which is not expected to occur within the next few hundred years.
The new estimate is higher by 2.76 inches (7 centimeters) for a total of 24.34 feet (7.42 meters).
OMG principal investigator Josh Willis of JPL, who was not involved in producing the maps, said, “These results suggest that Greenland’s ice is more threatened by changing climate than we had anticipated.”
On Oct. 23, the five-year OMG campaign completed its second annual set of airborne surveys to measure for the first time the amount that warm water around the island is contributing to the loss of the Greenland ice sheet.
Besides the one-time bathymetry survey, OMG is collecting annual measurements of the changing height of the ice sheet and the ocean temperature and salinity in more than 200 fjord locations. Morlighem looks forward to improving BedMachine’s maps with data from the airborne surveys.
The maps and related research are in a paper titled “BedMachine v3: Complete bed topography and ocean bathymetry mapping of Greenland from multi-beam echo sounding combined with mass conservation” in Geophysical Research Letters.
This project received support from NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program and the National Science Foundation’s ARCSS program.