May 25, 2017

So much water pulsed through a melting glacier that it warped the Earth’s crust

Greenland
by
Chris Mooney
,
Washington Post
Rink Glacier on Greenland’s west coast. Photo: John Sonntag, NASA
Rink Glacier on Greenland’s west coast. Photo: John Sonntag, NASA

NASA scientists detected a pulse of melting  ice and water traveling through a major glacier in Greenland that was so big that it warped the solid Earth — a surge equivalent in mass to 18,000 Empire State Buildings.

The pulse — which occurred during the 2012 record melt year — traveled nearly 15 miles through the Rink Glacier in western Greenland over four months before reaching the sea, the researchers said.

“It’s a gigantic mass,” said Eric Larour, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is able to bend the bedrock around it.”

Such a “wave” has never before been detected in a Greenland or Antarctic glacier. The total amount of mass carried in the wave — in the form of either water, ice or some combination of both — was 1.67 billion tons per month, or 6.68 billion tons over four months, according to the study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters.