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Earth Science

Huge Pool of Ice-Free Water Discovered Under Greenland Ice 135

Posted by timothy
from the where-the-vikings-are-pickled-for-the-end-times dept.
The BBC reports that researchers have discovered a huge pool of meltwater beneath Greenland's ice sheet, trapped "in the air space between particles of ice, similar to the way that fruit juice stays liquid in a slush drink." From the article, based on research published in Nature Geoscience (abstract): "The scientists say the water is prevented from freezing by the large amounts of snow that fall on the surface of the ice sheet late in the summer. This insulates the water from the air temperatures which are below freezing, allowing the water to persist as liquid all year long. Other researchers believe this discovery may help explain disparities between projections of mass loss by climate models and observations from satellites."
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Huge Pool of Ice-Free Water Discovered Under Greenland Ice

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hrrrmph.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by davester666 (731373)

      There is only one thing to do.

      Pump it out, bottle it, and sell it.

      Then use the resulting cavern to hold raw sewage. Maybe with a little radioactive waste thrown in for good measure.

      • by eggstasy (458692)

        Nooo! Radioactive waste is warm, it would melt the ice ;)
        You could pump the water out and allow it to freeze on the surface. Cover the damn thing with solar panels - less sun to reach the surface and melt the ice.
        Water usually falls through cracks and lubricates the ground beneath the glaciers.
        If we can remove the water maybe they won't slide into the ocean, and won't raise sea levels?

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          They're melting at a ridiculous rate, all that water *will* end up in the ocean unless we somehow halt global warming in it's tracks. Given that, it seems like a waste of resources trying to just buy a few more years.

    • No it is just an obvious ploy from those LiBeRaL scientists to back track on their global warming "Science" so they can continue to leach off of hard working Americans money, so they work rich and without impunity in the Education Commune.

      Hey that sounds pretty good, I could be a conservative radio host. I don't need to agree with, or have any fact to back up the stuff I spew, just a sweet gig.

  • Technolog (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:13PM (#45763607)

    Given our current level of technology, I'm always amazed when we discover large scale things like this. We have out cities mapped and photographed down to the meter, but we keep finding things like this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, the UEO won't be formed for another 4 years. SeaQuest is even further off. We've barely scratched the surface of our marble's trademark blue.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sycodon (149926)

      Just another example of Man thinking he has everything figured out only to be made a fool of by nature.

      • by Nerdfest (867930) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:31PM (#45763693)

        We generally don't even need nature. We seem to do a fine job on our own.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Nerdfest (867930)

          Well, I must admit that insulting mankind in general *is* probably a good start to getting modded "Troll".

      • Re:Technolog (Score:5, Informative)

        by icebike (68054) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @10:48PM (#45764025)

        Funny thing is, we have Ice Core Samples [noaa.gov] from all over Greenland, in Multiple Different Databases [noaa.gov] and they have all missed (or misinterpreted) this data for decades. Some of these were 2000 meters deep. In addition there were dye experiments in some areas.

        So it is sort of a surprise that we had no hint of this.

        • Re:Technolog (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 22, 2013 @10:55PM (#45764047)

          Yeah...Good thing they weren't using them to publish information that's at the core of some public policy or something.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Water has a lower melting temperature at high pressure. If anything this suggests that the consequences of glacial melting have been underestimated. You don't deserve mod points for implying or making bogus generalizations.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          it's just the size of ireland. entirely possible to miss it on random sampling.

          besides, if you're looking for ice cores you want places where there isn't a reservoir at any point in the yearly cycle down there....

          somehow finding water under ice in my book doesn't qualify as the nature making a fool out of the man. and that temperatures in and under the ice and/or snow are higher than the air temp in the arctic in the winter? holy shit call the inuit press quick!

          like the juice in a snow cone? like slush in a

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            From TFA

            The scientists have also come up with a rough estimate for the amount of water that is contained in the aquifer which itself covers an area of 70,000 sq km.
            Greenland ice melt The researchers drilled in areas with large accumulations of snow on the surface

            They believe that it holds roughly 140 billion tonnes of water, which is the equivalent to 0.4mm of sea level rise per year - about half of what Greenland contributes to the sea every year.

        • Re:Technolog (Score:5, Informative)

          by riverat1 (1048260) on Monday December 23, 2013 @01:15AM (#45764533)

          I'm not surprised. It's science, you keep looking and you keep finding new and interesting things. It's not possible to know everything instantly and Greenland is a remote and expensive place to study.

          This water is in the firn [wikipedia.org] which occurs down to a depth of around 50 meters [nationalgeographic.com] before the weight of snow above compresses it to glacial ice which can't hold water like firn. The top of the water table is generally less than 25 meters under the surface (see Figure 2 [nature.com]) and can't be deeper than about 50. These aquifers were found in the far south of Greenland near the coast, one of the warmer areas of Greenland. It's unknown as yet if they exist elsewhere but now they know to look for them. I imagine the further north you get the more difficult it would be for them to form.

          So you wouldn't likely see this except possibly at the very top of a 2,000 meter+ ice core. Most of those ice cores are drilled from far higher elevations and further north where it doesn't melt much even in summer so there is little water to begin with and in any case the colder temperatures probably cause water that forms to refreeze near the surface. In order for this water/firn mixture to coexist the temperature has to be just right and it wouldn't take much to tip the balance one way or another. If it tipped to warmer I imagine it could lead to rapid collapse of the snow field but we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

      • Re:Technolog (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bledri (1283728) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @10:55PM (#45764045)

        Just another example of Man thinking he has everything figured out only to be made a fool of by nature.

        Who claims to know everything? Certainly no scientist does. If they knew everything they wouldn't have anything to figure out and figuring out "how life, the universe and everything" work is the what science is about.

        • Re:Technolog (Score:4, Insightful)

          by quenda (644621) on Monday December 23, 2013 @12:10AM (#45764295)

          Who claims to know everything? Certainly no scientist does.

          Don't worry. Just another example of One Man making a sweeping claim, only to be made a fool of by the Wisdom of Slashdot.

      • Re:Technolog (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Gadget_Guy (627405) on Monday December 23, 2013 @12:43AM (#45764435)

        Just another example of Man thinking he has everything figured out only to be made a fool of by nature.

        Except Man doesn't think that he has everything figured out. This is even mentioned in the summary:

        Other researchers believe this discovery may help explain disparities between projections of mass loss by climate models and observations from satellites.

        Researchers knew that the models did not match what was happening and didn't know why. In fact, you can tell that they don't think that they know it all by seeing how they state their margins of error (which takes into account that there might be things that they don't know). Hell, even when they try to sound certain they can't quite bring themselves to stating things in terms of absolutes (hence the IPCC report saying that it was 95% certain that climate change was man made).

        And think about it, if scientists came out and said that they had discovered everything that there was to know then they would be putting themselves out of a job.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by dcollins117 (1267462)

          And think about it, if scientists came out and said that they had discovered everything that there was to know then they would be putting themselves out of a job.

          "Climate change is the biggest issue for us to face this century. It's man made. The science is done. It's complete. It's a matter of political understanding." - Sir David King, UK Government's Chief Scientist, giving evidence to House of Lords select committee (March 2004)

          I'm not arguing with you, I'm on your side. Just pointing out that not all scientists have the intellectual honesty we expect.

          • How's this for an analogy. Just because science can't pin down when you are going to die to the minute does not mean that you are immortal.


            Is that a clear and polite enough response to your "intellectual honesty" accusation of lying? Do you even understand that it is an accusation of lying or are you just a parrot repeating propaganda that you have heard?
      • by OakDragon (885217)

        Just another example of Man thinking he has everything figured out only to be made a fool of by nature.

        History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of man.

    • Re:Technolog (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:39PM (#45763737)

      We're not very good at looking through solid substances yet. Not only don't we know what's under the Greenland ice, we don't even know what's under many of our cities. For example, construction of the Thessaloniki metro recently discovered an entire Roman city center [bbc.co.uk] buried beneath the modern-day city center. In limited cases you can find some of this kind of stuff with ground-penetrating radar [wikipedia.org], but in general mapping out stuff that's covered by solid dirt/ice/etc. is not easy, even in the 21st century.

    • by mevets (322601) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:44PM (#45763753)

      Google Subterrain was voted out by focus groups. The troglodyte minority was trounced by those smug hipsters with their Earth and Streetview apps.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And let scientists and astronomers think they can determine the chemical composition of a planet 10K light years away, how many moons it has surrounding it, and how old it is or readily explain in detail some cluster of mass or light from 3 billions years ago. Yeah. You have to justify that equipment and education and job you have I assume. Meanwhile on earth there is a huge moving target of when different versions of people first appeared, why dinosaurs went extinct and no one knows with any accuracy w

      • by khallow (566160)

        And let scientists and astronomers think they can determine the chemical composition of a planet 10K light years away, how many moons it has surrounding it, and how old it is or readily explain in detail some cluster of mass or light from 3 billions years ago.

        These are easier targets because we are directly observing them. Predicting weather in 5 days is about that level of difficulty too. We probably have figured out why bees are dying, we just don't know it yet.

        And while we don't know why whales beach themselves, we do know why most human boats do - because they weren't where they thought they were, because they weren't aware of local conditions, or because they didn't have the ability to avoid grounding themselves. That's probably why whales beach themselv

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          As far as the bees are concerned we seem to have figured out at least one of the major causes: Roundup. Nicitinoid based insecticides are known particularly lethal to bees, and supposedly colony collapse has now been fairly well correlated with Roundup usage in the bees foraging areas. Granted that's no guarantee of causation, but when the bees return after eliminating the Roundup it certainly is a strong indicator. I heard just the other day that Monsanto has for the first time actually been found liable

          • by khallow (566160)

            Suggesting they didn't notice the water depth would seem to be suggesting that something has severely impaired their sonar.

            And there we go. I suspect it wouldn't be that hard to come up with ways, both natural and man-made which could impair whales' sonar.

      • no one knows with any accuracy what the weather will be like in 5 days, why bees are dying, and whales beach themselves

        Actually we do know why the bees are dying, just stop looking to media types who are just looking for an alarmist story, large ag buisnesses looking for subsidies, or acedemics looking for grants to get answers (we don't know yet but if you give us more money I'm sure we can find out).

        Go talk to a freaking beekeeper already if you really want to know what is going on. There is no on

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        I find the 5 day weather forecasts to be extremely accurate. Amazingly accurate. Even the 10 day forecasts are pretty darn good.
    • Why are you amazed? Our science can barely explain what's going on in your own body, much less entire biospheres. I've no doubt that we eventually will have the science down, but the difference between what we do know and what we don't know should never be a surprise.

  • So when the worldwide population multiplies, will water be the new oil?

    • Ah it shouldn't be hard to get drinking water from the ocean if we had to. The key is there is a water problem now. It is because many people live in poverty and no one helps them build the basic infrastructure for sanitation. The modern man should see what resources he needs to live on, living a frugal life even, then give the excess to help the poorest of the poor. For people with hearts, we don't need big time luxuries when there are poor people dying who can be helped at 33 cents a day. If you're
      • by rossdee (243626)

        The only difference between salty wateer and fresh water is energy - we just need to harness fusion power.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        While noble in intent, there is a major problem with most charities as well, especially those that target the immediate, obvious needs like food: by artificially increasing the available food supply you increase the population that can be sustained, and the population will grow until it hits the new limits. Limits which now *require* charity in order to be maintained. An influx of free resources also undermines local markets, thus reducing the sustainable carrying capacity of the society even further. Ba

    • by Seumas (6865)

      You mean, a thing that there is plenty of that we're constantly being told is just years away from being completely gone?

      • by riverat1 (1048260) on Monday December 23, 2013 @01:33AM (#45764587)

        There's lots of fresh water on the planet (including all the fresh water stored as ice). The problem is getting to a place where it's useful. Most places have to make do with the fresh water that's available locally. A notable exception being Southern California which imports water from the north and from the Colorado River. I doubt you'll find knowledgeable people saying fresh water would be completely gone (except perhaps for some overtaxed aquifers). Instead they are saying there will be more demand for fresh water than there is supply available to fill that demand in the future. Getting fresh water from Greenland to any place useful would be difficult and expensive.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      they keep saying that, but the one's that keep yelling it the loudest are usually running a water investment scam.

      I got some fresh water to sell to you... ... ... the only catch is that the water is in Finland. just figure out how to move it to sahara cheaper than drilling the water there and you'll make a bundle! promise!

  • by Mikkeles (698461) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:34PM (#45763719)

    Sorta like the bulk of the oceans remain liquid under the ice that forms in the northern oceans.

    • Re:Right (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sumdumass (711423) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:46PM (#45763773) Journal

      Isn't that a result of the salinity keeping it from freezing?

      Anyways, we have seen supercooling effects like this in the past where the pressure involved allows water to remain below it's freezing point. It's the theory behind an ice dam in the Midwest US that caused a lot of the geographical markings when it burst. I don't really see anything extraordinary here as apposed to theories in history. It's just that is is happening right now in front of us. Water does have that quality, under pressure, it raises the boiling point and can lower the point which it will actually freeze.

      • Re:Right (Score:5, Informative)

        by ihtoit (3393327) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @10:09PM (#45763873)

        it's not true that subsurface water in the Arctic ocean isn't freezing: it is, continually. What salinity does is disrupt the phase equilibrium between liquid and solid so the water phases between solid and liquid at a faster rate than the liquid phasing to solid, ergo the mass remains a liquid. That's only considering salinity. Absent pressure at depth, the entire ocean would be a block of ice right now, but see my other post in this thread (here [slashdot.org]) as to the other reason the Arctic ocean is liquid.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Absent pressure at depth, the entire ocean would be a block of ice right now

          And the heat from the Sun and Earth which is the real reason the oceans are liquid.

          • by danbert8 (1024253)

            Not necessarily, Europa doesn't have the internal heat of the earth (though it probably does have a significant amount) and definitely doesn't get as much energy from the sun yet there is liquid water under the ice. Pressure does change the temperature at which water will turn to ice.

            • by khallow (566160)

              Not necessarily, Europa doesn't have the internal heat of the earth (though it probably does have a significant amount) and definitely doesn't get as much energy from the sun yet there is liquid water under the ice. Pressure does change the temperature at which water will turn to ice.

              Europa experiences considerable tidal heating from Jupiter.

              The thing here is that without heating, anything planet-sized will cool rapidly to near the cosmic microwave background temperature, which is just under 3K currently. There simply isn't enough pressure on Earth or Europa to make a significant difference.

      • by symbolset (646467) *
        Or maybe... geothermal energy is melting the ice from the bottom, as it should be expected to.
        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          You're going to have to find a shitload more geothermal energy than is currently evident to backup your hypothesis before it can be taken seriously. Another question to answer is why would there all of a sudden be more geothermal energy flux under the arctic ocean to cause the current melting?

          • by symbolset (646467) *
            I was talking about Greenland, sorry.
            • by riverat1 (1048260)

              Even on Greenland there isn't enough heat flux from below to cause this. The water is in the firn and generally less than 50 meters below the surface (because the firn changes to solid ice below that level from the weight of snow above it). The water is undoubtedly sitting on top of glacial ice, not bedrock (unless the depth of the snow is less than 50 m).

  • whoosh (Score:5, Informative)

    by ihtoit (3393327) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:44PM (#45763751)

    ...said the physics teacher.

    Under pressure, the freezing point of water is lowered. The more pressure, the lower the ice point. To demonstrate:

    Assume that a container is indestructible (let's say, a sphere with a perfect seal). It is full of water with no gas in solution or loose in bubbles or anything like that. Just pure water. Now, stick it in a deep freeze. Wait.
    Water has the odd property of expanding at around 4C at normal (sea level) pressure. By the time it freezes at 0C under those same pressure conditions, it has expanded to fill 1/8 more volume than it did as a liquid. This is why icebergs float. This is why distilled water ice cubes also float. The liquid water does its thing and... you know the rest. Titanic.

    The water in the sphere is prevented from freezing for the simple reason that it has nowhere to go. It has no space to expand into. If it cannot expand, it cannot freeze. How low can you go? I have no idea, having no access to magnetocaloric equipment. But I daresay, you wouldn't meet the conditions required to get the volume of water to contract to the point where it can solidify in the available space, outside of a suitably equipped laboratory or in the shadow of an outer planet.

    Further reading suggests temperatures approaching/lower than about 70K (-203C) to achieve this. Further reading [lsbu.ac.uk].

    • by ihtoit (3393327)

      just thought of a practical experiment (one I did at school, actually), assuming you have access to a walk-in freezer (or my living room which is perishing cold right now because my heating's been off a couple days. Failing that, a domestic freezer):

      Take 1 ice cube, two one-ounce lead weights, and a length of copper wire or fishing line. Tie the weights together with the wire/line with a space of about four inches between the two weights, and put the assembly across the ice so the wire rests on the ice and

    • Re:whoosh (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 22, 2013 @10:35PM (#45763977)

      The melting point of water is reduced by 0.007 K per atmosphere of pressure. The effect is of only minor significance, because it is so small. People almost always overestimate it.

      If you put water in a real container (as opposed to something indestructible) and put it in the freezer, it will not stay liquid. Instead, it will happily freeze. In doing so it will expand the container, possibly bursting it. To keep the water liquid at just -7 C, you need a container that can withstand 1000 atmospheres, which probably requires a steel pressure vessel. According to the site you linked, there is no pressure sufficient to keep water liquid below -22 degrees.

      The pressure under the ice in Greenland is probably about 300 atm at the most (based on the weight of 3 km of ice), so the freezing point is only about 2.1 degrees lower at the bottom than at the top. If there really is pure liquid water at the bottom, that can't be explained purely by regelation. It also has to be quite warm (-2.1 C) at the bottom.

      • by ihtoit (3393327)

        from the same page (I guess you missed it and decided to ignore my static assumption of a vessel whose volume cannot change):

        "If the increase in volume on freezing is prevented, an increased pressure of up to 25 MPa may be generated in water pipes; easily capable of bursting them in Winter. An interesting question concerns what would happen to water cooled below 0 C within a vessel that cannot change its volume (isochoric cooling). Clearly if ice forms, its increased volume causes an increase in pressure wh

    • by symbolset (646467) *
      In a very cold room take a skillet and put a large flat rock in it. Put a block of ice on the rock. Heat the skillet. After a while the heat will travel through the rock and melt the ice from the bottom.
      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        I believe these aquifers are sitting on top of glacial ice not rock since below about 50 meters the firn turns to solid ice from the weight of snow above. By definition the glacial ice would be below freezing.

        • by symbolset (646467) *
          My mistake. Sorry.
          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            Hey, I didn't know about it until I went and read the abstract and found (from Figure 2) that the top of the water table was only about 20 meters under the surface. Then I spent 20 minutes tracking down how deep the snow has to get before the firn turns to solid glacial ice and found it's at around 50 meters. So the water had to be above that. That's what I love about science, learning new things and increasing my understanding of the world.

    • That's a hypothesis based on some real physics, but it's not clear that you've identified the physics principle here, or even that you read the summary. Because the summary says:

      This insulates the water from the air temperatures which are below freezing, allowing the water to persist as liquid all year long

      So the reason it doesn't freeze is because it's not cold enough. No other explanation needed.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Well, almost.
        [pedantic mode: engaged]
        It's surrounded by ice on all sides so clearly it is cold enough, but like an insulated glass of ice water everything will be at the same temperature, about 0*C, but in different phases. The "problem" is that the water can't freeze without losing a *lot* of energy (the enthalpy of fusion), which requires that there be a colder reservoir for that heat to flow to. There's no actual temperature change associated with the waterice transition, but it requires 79.8 c

    • by mysidia (191772)

      The liquid water does its thing and... you know the rest. Titanic.

      Titanic was supposed to be an indestructible container for air and humans....

      Water has the odd property of expanding at around 4C at normal (sea level) pressure.

      Above 4 degrees; water is more dense at lower temperatures, just like other fluids. Water is most dense at 4 degrees C. If you cool OR heat water at 4 degrees C either above or below that temperature; it will have to become less dense or be under greater pressure.

      Therefore; if y

  • by tomhath (637240) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @09:49PM (#45763787)

    Other researchers believe this discovery may help explain disparities between projections of mass loss by climate models and observations from satellites

    Or maybe not. For all we know that slush has been there since the last ice age.

    • Coming This Winter: A warming tale of overcoming adversity from beneath Greenland's Ice. In the face of immense pressure a soggy hero goes against the grain, and learns its okay not to be as cool as everyone else.

      Slushy the Snowman

  • If that water underneath the ice made it possible that the entire sheet of ice could slide off in one go, that would make projections of melting time somewhat irrelevant. Might just nead a bit of an earthquake to get things moving...
    • I came to post this exact thought. It's all the ice piled up above the water-line we need to worry about. Greenland and the Antarcticshould a big slide happen, well, we'll have a bit more water in the oceans. (I was going to say something more snarky but it's not needed, is it?)
    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      The water is in the firn and generally less than 50 meters deep without any ice on top that could slide off. The glacial ice starts forming at a depth of around 50 meters.

  • Let's see if you can guess mine:

    Marduk T-Shirt, military boots, necklace with an inverted pentagram, leather jacket with stickers of Immortal, an inverted crucifix a Church of Satan button, heavy duty working trousers... hmm, difficult, very difficult to guess.
    \m/

  • So, that's were they were hiding... and holding the rest of the world for a fool making us believe that they were our there in the icy wilderness freezing their balls off with nothing to eat but live baby seals while they actually were enjoying Martinis and banana splits in their underground climatized giant pool!

  • The TFS's title is insanely wrong. The water in question is in the pore spaces between the grains of ice. It's as ice fee as something that is 90-95% by vilume ice can possibly be. Not very ice-free.

    That water moves around in both solid (porosity under a couple of %) ice and less compacted snow (let's call it "firn", because Wegener was German) is well known. Sometimes it moves in large channels - look up "joukullhlaup' for some fun figures - sometimes in small or microscopic ones. But always it remains hy

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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