University of Utah Researchers Surprised by Discovery of Perennial Aquifer in Greenland

Dec 23, 2013

U of U geography doctorate candidate and co-author Clément Miège collects water during surprise discovery of water in the Greenland Ice Sheet.
U of U geography doctorate candidate and co-author Clément Miège collects water during surprise discovery of water in the Greenland Ice Sheet.
Credit File: University of Utah

Geography researchers from the University of Utah have discovered a perennial aquifer in Greenland estimated to be 15 times larger than the Great Salt Lake. The findings were published online Sunday in Nature Geoscience. University of Utah geography professor Richard Forster says his small team of researchers found the huge reservoir while drilling for samples of compacted snow called firn.

“Instead of bringing this dry firn up from the drill that we’re normally doing, this time we brought a core up and water was just gushing out of it,” says Forster.

The professor says it was still too early in the year for there to be any snowmelt, especially 33 feet into the snowpack.

Detail area indicates study zone in southeast Greenland. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers roughly the same area as the states of Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California combined. The average thickness of the ice is 5,000 feet. Records for melt and runoff have been recorded over the last few years.
Detail area indicates study zone in southeast Greenland. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers roughly the same area as the states of Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California combined. The average thickness of the ice is 5,000 feet. Records for melt and runoff have been recorded over the last few years.
Credit File: Nature Geography on-line

“We knew this meant that this water had survived throughout the winter and were completely surprised by this finding,” he says.

Forster says the discovery changed the focus of their research.  Now, an international collaborative of researchers using NASA radar imagery and other studies will help scientists predict the movement and temperature of water in the aquifer.  The Greenland Ice Sheet covers an area equal to the combined area of Utah, the other four-corners-states plus California. The average thickness of the ice is 5,000 feet but record melting has been recorded in recent years.