Researchers analyze how climate change in Arctic relates to Greenland ice sheet


Climate change's effects have been far-reaching, going so far as to cause Greenland's ice sheet to begin melting, said Asa Rennermalm, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography.

The Greenland ice sheet is the second largest body of glacial ice in the world, with an area of 1.71 million square kilometers and a volume of 2.85 million cubic kilometers, according to the Arctic Report Card written by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The research project is based on how climate change in the Arctic relates to the Greenland ice sheet, she said.

“Greenland has been a part of my interest since I was an (undergraduate, and) I went to Greenland and did a research project there” she said.

Although Greenland is an isolated area with a small populace, its ice sheet's activity can have a global impact, she said. Part of the global sea level rising can be attributed to this sheet melting.

Rennermalm said she advertised with the Aresty Research Center to look for students who were interested in researching more about this sheet's impact.

Vincent Quinton, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he took Rennermalm’s Spatial Data Analysis class, where Greenland was an important topic. With the Aresty project, he analyzes rates of melting in Greenland.

“My project is generally about the trend of Greenland melting going up,” he said.

As the rate of melting increases, sediment content in the water is affected, he said. One focus of the project is determining where meltwater gathers and where sediment is picked up.

In northern Greenland, an area mostly dominated by sedimentary rock, there exists a lot of potential for changes in meltwater and sediment composition, he said.

Rennermalm said the relationship between meltwater losses and the underlying bedrock is lacking in research, despite being an important topic. By looking at the entire ice sheet and then at the bedrock, one can see where runoff is currently and where it may be tomorrow.

This is the basis for water chemistry, she said. More research can lead to an understanding of the effects on nutrient composition of the oceans surrounding Greenland. This in turn leads to an understanding of its effects on the whole ecosystem.

Yunpeng Lyu, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he also took a class with Rennermalm and became interested in working under her guidance.

“My project is more focused on analyzing the correlation between the ice sheet in Greenland and the sea cover in the Northern Greenland sea," he said.

When sea ice melts, local winds bring cold dry air to the ice sheet, which prevents the sheet from melting, he said.

If sea ice continues to deplete, it could be harmful for the ice sheet because the wind will bring warm wet air instead. This in turn will melt the ice sheet faster, he said. If the correlation can be figured out, then a better understanding can be reached.

Overall, there does not seem to be a strong correlation, Rennermalm said. A specific site in Northeastern Greenland is showing interesting data during the summer and from shorter time series studies.

There seems to be more warm rain from the sea, Lyu said. The sea ice coverage is facilitating the melting of the ice sheet. Based on this data, more analyzing of sea winds can be done to reach a conclusion.

Quinton said he used a tool known as ArcGIS, which digitizes geographic information that can then be queried to solve a wide array of problems. Datasets of bedrock can even be multiplied with the amount of meltwater discharge to determine where the sediment travels.

MATLAB, Microsoft Excel and Rose Maps helped organize sea wind data from three stations on the coast of Northeastern Greenland and display them efficiently with figures, graphs and datasets, Lyu said.

Major preparation is under way for the Association of American Geographers’ annual meeting in Chicago later this week, Rennermalm said. Quinton and Lyu will be among the only undergraduates to attend the event.

“They are both doing very important research and I think their work is worthy of being published,” she said. “I am very proud of both of them."

Regarding the discipline of geography, Rennermalm said, "If we could be a bagel, we would be the everything bagel.”

Editorial Note: A previous version of this article said Asa Rennermalm is an associate professor in the Department of Geography.


Tiffany Zhu

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