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Picture of Greenland Ice Sheet by NASA

A team of international scientists involving our Geography department has unveiled a new map of the geological provinces hidden beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet.

This comprehensive synthesis, published in Geophysical Research Letters, promises to advance our understanding of this critical component of the global climate system.

New insights into Greenland's subsurface structure

The new subglacial geology map provides an invaluable modernised framework for interpreting the solid earth properties that shape the Greenland Ice Sheet's past, present, and future behaviour.

Using a wealth of geophysical data, including seismic, gravity, magnetic, and topographic surveys, the researchers have meticulously delineated the boundaries of geological provinces across the island and, crucially, beneath the ice.

Revealing a complex and heterogeneous landscape

This updated map represents a significant advancement over previous efforts, which were hampered by limited data availability.

By combining diverse geophysical datasets, the researchers have been able to map Greenland's subsurface structure in unprecedented detail, revealing a far more complex picture than was previously known.

Notably, the team's findings show that north of 72°N, Greenland's geology is clearly more heterogeneous than previously thought.

There are also three distinct subglacial regions identified in central and northern Greenland whose unique geophysical signatures do not align with the island's marginal geology, suggesting the presence of as-yet-unknown geological provinces.

Implications for understanding Greenland's ice dynamics

The researchers also detected intriguing geophysical anomalies aligned with the onset regions of the Petermann Glacier and the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, two of Greenland's most dynamic outlet glaciers.

This discovery points to a potential link between subglacial geology and ice sheet dynamics, a relationship that warrants deeper investigation.

In addition, the team's analysis of surface topography data revealed an extensive network of remarkably long, straight, and parallel subglacial valleys crossing Greenland's interior.

These features, which remain poorly resolved in current topographic models, may hold clues about the island's tectonic history and could provide new avenues for investigating the ice sheet's past dynamics.

Find out more

  • Dr Guy Paxman from our Geography department is a co-author of this study.
  • Read the full paper published in the Geophysical Research Letters. This study is a collaborative effort involving scientists from NASA, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Durham University, Columbia University, the University at Buffalo, the Université du Québec à Montréal, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Florida, Dartmouth College, and Princeton University.
  • View the full map.
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