2:38 pm
Wed August 1, 2012

A Researcher's View of Greenland's Big Thaw

There's nothing like a bird's-eye view to really put big events into perspective...or is there?

On the heels of a giant iceberg that broke off Greenland's Petermann glacier, NASA last week announced thatsatellites had observed unprecedented melting all over Greenland's ice sheets.

Nearly the entire ice sheet covering Greenland—from its thin coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center—experienced some degree of melting for several days in July 2012. According to measurements from three satellites and an analysis by NASA and university scientists, an estimated 97 percent of the top layer of the ice sheet had thawed at some point in mid-July, the largest extent of surface melting observed in three decades of satellite observations.

The satellite data were so unusual that, at first, NASA scientists thought it was an error. Alas, no.
Once it was verified, the visualization of said satellite data (shown above) made the rounds, for obvious reasons. The difference between red (melting) and white (ice) is pretty stark. And I can't think of any way to get this scale of data other than those eyes in the sky - satellites. Still, what the map graphic makes up for in perspective, it lacks in impact. Or something like that.

In that regard, this video from graduate students Ben Linhoff (M.I.T.-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program) and Andrew Tedstone (University of Edinburgh) is the polar opposite.
Ben and Andrew have spent this summer camping alongside Leverett Glacier in western Greenland. On it's own, footage of a raging river of glacial meltwater lacks historical and geographical context. But it inspires awe and appreciation for the raw power of the changes taking place in Earth's icy areas. And the data the team collects will provide a better understanding of the processes behind - and implications of - this summer's record melting.
By the way, in between doing science and producing videos, Ben Linhoff has also been blogging on Scientific American's Expeditions blog. Ken Kostel, a science writer at WHOI, tells me Ben's Following the Ice posts have been getting more hits than any other Expeditions thread has .. with good reason. They're funny, or suspenseful, or thoughtful, and always insightful and wondefully written. When Ben gets back to Woods Hole, we'll see about getting him into the studio to tell some of his stories on Living Lab Radio.

Related Program