Mysterious Phenomenon Causes Giant Lakes In Greenland To Drain Within Weeks, Scientists Baffled

Greenland lakes drained mystery

Greenland, the vast island located in the northern extremity of our planet, is a unique place. Almost completely covered in ice all year round, this country has a population of less than 60,000. The ice caps in Greenland are believed to hold 10 percent of all freshwater that the earth contains. The island, which has been long known for its extreme weather, glaciers, and ice caps, is in the news again for a different reason.

According to Scientific American, a joint study conducted by a group of researchers from Cornell University and the Ohio State University has revealed a mysterious phenomenon that is causing billions of gallons of water to drain out of large lakes that Greenland is dotted with. Like the case is with many discoveries, the discovery of the water draining from the lakes came as a surprise for the researchers.

According to the American Herald, this phenomenon was first noted by Mike Willis, one of the team members that was part of joint study group. Willis, who is a glaciologist, was combing through data that was collected using GPS and satellite when he noted that there was a hole in an ice cap located in northern Greenland. The crater was twice the size of New York’s Central Park and it looked as if something catastrophic had happened there. The initial hunch was that it could have been caused by a meteor strike. Some of his colleagues suggested it could be a volcano. However, it later became clear that the crater was, in fact, a remnant of a sub-glacial lake, that had, for some weird reason, drained away completely. The draining of the water caused the ice above it to cave in and created the massive crater.

Expanding their study, the group of researchers noted that another lake in Greenland, too, had exhibited similar behavior. What they didn’t know was the cause of this phenomenon. A detailed study later revealed that it took just a few weeks for one of the sub glacial lakes to be completely drained of water. Note that we are talking about billions of liters of water here. Further study established that one of the lakes once held a staggering 6.7 billion gallons of water and all it now contains is ice inside a crater that is 1.2 miles wide and 230 feet across.

While it is not clear what phenomenon caused the lake to drain all of its water in rather quick time, the researchers do believe they have a probable suspect. Professor Ian Howatt, who is a professor of earth sciences at the Ohio State University, believes that global warming could be one of the causes that led to this dramatic draining of water from the lakes in Greenland.

The other lake mentioned in the study according to the researchers is believed to have existed for over 40 years and had, in the past, shown similar behavior when the water drained away back in 2011. The researchers are now using data from NASA to determine how many times the lake was filled and emptied since 2012.

Many researchers are of the belief that this phenomenon of filling and emptying of these subglacial lakes in Greenland is a cause of concern. While not an immediate threat, an increase in the speed of this phenomenon could result in melting away of the ice that surrounds the lake. According to ABC News, in some cases, these large ice blocks, several miles wide, could end up in the ocean — contributing to raising of water levels in the ocean and threatening coastal cities across the world.

Note that the study has observed this phenomenon with just two sub glacial lakes located in Greenland. At this stage, it is unclear whether there are other such lakes on the island.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]