Greenland has been hiding a lot of melt water that may or may not end up contributing to rising sea levels. The discovery of liquid water hiding inside layers of glacier-top snow in southern Greenland came as a shock to the scientists drilling the ice.
"It was a complete surprise," said Richard Forster of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "We brought the core up and the water was just gushing out of it."
Forster's team had expected layers of dry snow, which had been the case in other areas they drilled, because it was early spring and there had not been a chance for the surface ice to melt and seep down into the layers of packed snow beneath the surface, called firn. The liquid water also worried the team because the ice drilling probe they were using had unprotected electronics on it not designed for submersion in water.
To get a better idea how much water was hidden in the packed snow, the team employed ice penetrating radar to identify the top of the ice-cold aquifer near the watery cores, and then used that information to search for and map out how much more water there was tens of meters down in the firn. What they found was evidence of about 70,000 square kilometers of water – almost the area of Ireland. They reported their discovery in the Dec. 22 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.