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Greenland's Ice Sheet Melting While Hiding Aquafier Holding Billions of Gallons of Water

Greenland's ice sheet sits on top of one of the largest fresh water reservoirs in the world as scientists continue to monitor the sheets record melting.

Research that was published online in the journal Nature Geoscience on Dec. 22 revealed that the lake, known as a "perennial firn aquifer," remains liquid year-round despite being covered by the ice sheet.

"Large amounts of snow fall on the surface late in the summer and quickly insulates the water from the subfreezing air temperatures above, allowing the water to persist all year long," said Rick Forster, lead author and professor of geography at the University of Utah.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is vast, covering roughly the same area as the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah combined. The average thickness of the ice is nearly a mile.

Scientists stated that the Greenland Ice Sheet is the largest contributor to sea level rise and understanding the melting and storage capacity of this aquifer is crucial to determining its impact.

"So understanding the aquifer's capacity to store water from year to year is important because it fills a major gap in the overall equation of melt water runoff and sea levels," Forester wrote.

"This discovery was a surprise," Forster added. "Although water discharge from streams in winter had been previously reported, and snow temperature data implied small amounts of water, no one had yet reported observing water in the firn that had persisted through the winter."

The consequences of losing the Greenland Ice Sheet could be catastrophic. If all the water retained in the ice sheet melted, it is estimated that the global sea level would rise about 6 meters, says Forster.

Researchers do not know what to think and have yet been able to form a consensus regarding the impact the reservoir will have.

"It might conserve melt water flow and thus help slow down the effects of climate change. But it may also have the opposite effect, providing lubrication to moving glaciers and exacerbating ice velocity and calving increasing the mass of ice loss to the global ocean," he said.

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