Greenland Ice | Mapped in 3-D

Operation IceBridge Mission Statement

NASA’s Operation IceBridge images Earth’s polar ice in unprecedented detail to better understand processes that connect the polar regions with the global climate system. IceBridge utilizes a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments ever assembled to characterize annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets.

Now in the seventh year, IceBridge is deep into the Arctic research campaign. Each year, the aircraft fly over the Arctic or the Antarctic to gather data on the ice and how it is responding to climate change. The data is related to that of other research efforts such as ice core drilling and satellite observations. One of the regions intensely studied is Greenland which is 85% covered by ice to up to an average depth of 2.3 km (1.6 miles). The great weight of the ice has pressed the central rock layers of Greenland down 300 m (1000 ft) below sea level. There is enough ice on Greenland to raise sea level by 7 m (23 ft) if it were to all melt. Knowing the structure and past history during previous climate eras will help understand the prospects for future behavior. To that end, IceBridge researchers released this 3-D visualization animation of the ice layers. It was produced by the NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio. Run time is 3 min 37 sec.


22 thoughts on “Greenland Ice | Mapped in 3-D

  1. Because it is so distorted on most (mercator) maps I was motivated by your post to check out Greenland on my globe. Judging by eye, it is roughly the same area as these six states combined:


    Also notable is that Greenland’s northern tip is only about 500 miles from the north pole. No wonder it has been such a storehouse for ice! Very interesting post. 🙂

  2. Thanks! Quite informative for me with insufficient science background. National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions sent me recently a travel brochure for an August trip that explores Greenland & the Canadian high Arctic including flightseeing over the Ice Cap. Have to go buy my lottery ticket to go. Dreams…..

  3. That video was brilliantly simple. The pittance we spend on science yields a ROI (Return on Investment) that is of infinite value!

    • I agree. There are so many examples of these high ROI efforts. They are in diverse fields of climate research, astronomy, genetics, medicine, chemistry, etc. The power of the human mind to comprehend problems and their solutions is very inspiring.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. What I wonder about is whether Eemian ice can be responsible for the rising water levels (which apparently is), and whether this means that Greenland may be gradually sinking. I also think of erosion as a totally different process, nevertheless similar because of loss of upper soil layers which may also eventually cause the sinking (or the gradual disappearance of some islands). In some cases, the eventual end result is “desertification”; a problem which I believe is already occurring in tropical and arid zones. ” It can also be caused by climate change and human activities, but I suppose it’s a much slower process.

    • I wouldn’t say Eemian ice is responsible for rising levels. It is simply ice deposited on Greenland when Earth was in a previous warm era. The melting ice on Greenland is from the top layers of Holocene. The melt flows down thru chutes and fissures. Where it ultimately goes is a subject of intense study. If it is flowing into the sea, the levels will be rising.

      Greenland rock strata have sunk due to the massive weight of ice above. The layers of rock are actually flexible to a small degree. They are expected to rebound and rise back up in the future as the ice melts and the weight down goes away.

      • I’m speaking of about in a 5,000-10,000 years or more; do you think the tendency for certain land masses is to gradually sink, drift, or stay relatively the same?

        • There are examples of each due to plate tectonics. The pacific northwest in the U.S. has a land mass sliding under it from the northwest. India is colliding with Asia and growing the Himalaya mtns. The earthquake in Nepal was a result. The central Atlantic ocean is pulling apart causing a split. Areas near Ethiopia are splitting apart.

          The Earth is a dynamic and changing place.

  5. I’d never heard of the Eemian period, but in the Wikipedia article at

    I found this:

    “The Eemian (also Sangamonian, Ipswichian, Mikulin, Valdivia, Riss-Würm) was the interglacial period which began about 130,000 years ago and ended about 115,000 years ago. It corresonds to Marine Isotope Stage 5e. It was the second-to-latest interglacial period of the current Ice Age, the most recent being the Holocene which extends to the present day. The prevailing Eemian climate is believed to have been warmer than that of the Holocene.”

    The article later explains where the name comes from:

    “The Eemian Stage was first recognized from boreholes in the area of the city of Amersfoort, Netherlands, by Harting (1875). He named the beds “Système Eémien”, after the river Eem on which Amersfoort is located.”

    I notice that the Holocene that we’re in now is described in the article as an “interglacial period of the current Ice Age.” That implies that another icy era lies ahead of us, or else the Holocene couldn’t be an interglacial period.

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