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A Mysterious World of Sculptures is Hidden Underneath Greenland's Ice Sheets

by Holly Chavez Blog

Antarctic Peninsula

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Greenland

A Mysterious World of Sculptures is Hidden Underneath Greenland's Ice Sheets

Anyone who goes on an expedition to the right part of the globe can encounter huge amounts of ice, but a Greenland cruise has something very unique: ice sculptures that are hidden underneath the northern ice sheet. Scientists used to believe that these sculptures were rocky hills that had gotten buried in ice, which would have made them similar to the Ghost Mountains in Antarctica. Instead, it turns out that Mother Nature has created one of the most exclusive art exhibits in the world. After all, humans cannot see the sculptures from the surface of the ice sheet, but some scientists have been able to get a sneak peek by using radar equipment.  

When Were the Sculptures Discovered?

The first evidence of these ice sculptures, which are often referred to as jellyroll sculptures, was found in 2010. At that time, a piece of the Petermann Glacier that was approximately the same size as Manhattan broke free and slid down into the ocean. Researchers found at least part of one of these sculptures revealed and laying on top of one section of the glacier after that incident. Interestingly, the portion of the glacier in question was moving at a pace that doubled other nearby sheets of ice. The prevailing theory is that the exposed ice sculpture began melting once it was exposed to sunlight, and the mixture of melting and refreezing sped up the glacier. 

In 2014, ice-penetrating radar equipment was finally advanced enough to enable a team of researchers to get their first virtual look at these hidden sculptures. Although it is now believed that the unusual ice that was observed in 2010 was part of a sculpture, scientists at that time were still operating under the assumption that there were hills under the ice instead of oddly shaped formations.

How Big Are the Sculptures?

One of the most fascinating things about the ice sculptures hidden in Greenland is the fact that they are as tall as Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Some researchers believe that they are even bigger than the two tallest buildings in Manhattan combined. In fact, these massive ice formations are most likely 3,280 feet tall, and this helps paint a fascinating picture of just how much space exists in Greenland between the ground and the top of the ocean. 

What do the Sculptures Look Like?

Radar imaging shows that the ice is not formed in even layers. Instead, it has what has been referred to as the appearance of an icy jelly roll. The ice that forms these sculptures is twisted, bent and folded, and this has caused its location to shift. Scientists estimate that the ice is 120,000 years old, but the sculptures are much closer to than surface than would typically be expected. Instead of being buried 1.5 miles underneath the top ice sheet, Mother Nature’s art show is currently resting about 0.6 miles beneath the surface.

What Does This Teach Us?

The novelty of ice formations is interesting enough, but there are also some interesting bits of information that can be gleaned from this discovery. For example, it is now believed that these sculptures are created due to the melting and refreezing process. This could be indicative of global warming, and it is intriguing to ponder the possibilities of what Greenland’s glaciers could look like in the future. Scientists are also currently applying this new data to projections regarding glacial melting worldwide, and this could allow them to provide vital warning time to areas that will eventually be affected by melting and shifting ice. 

Future Explorations

It is a virtual certainty that radar methods will continue to evolve, and this will make it possible for future generations of scientists to study the ice sculptures more closely. Right now, we cannot say with any certainty if the ice formations are all that is down there or if they are actually hiding the mountains that were once believed to be in their place. One of the most exciting things about going on expeditions is getting to visit areas that still have many secrets to share, and Greenland is definitely no exception. Keep this in mind the next time you go on an arctic adventure.

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