Greenland Ice Sheet

Graduate student Celia Trunz carries equipment used to monitor stream flow

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet is not a simple issue of warmer air temperatures melting the surface ice, which then flows into the ocean. Surface meltwater can flow deep into the glacier through natural pipes known as moulins. These subsurface channels not only transmit water to some outlet, where it flows into the ocean, but may also influence the downslope sliding of the glacier toward the ocean.

To better understand the controls that govern glacier sliding, field work and model studies are being conducted on the Greenland ice sheet. A number of moulins have been instrumented with pressure sensors, glacier velocity will be measured with GPS sensors, and discharge will be monitored through dye tracing. Simulations will be conducted to integrate the observations with a number of simple conduit models in the hope of providing a better and more comprehensive understanding of the processes that govern glacier sliding.

Data will be analyzed, and used to parameterize model experiments, to determine the degree to which: 1) local versus regional inputs of melt water control moulin water levels; and 2) changes in effective pressure that occur along ice flow paths affect local relationships between subglacial water pressure and ice velocity.

Beyond the training of graduate and undergraduate students, the PIs will work with a journalism student at the University of Arkansas to produce a documentary about their field experience. This collaboration provides a unique opportunity to communicate to the general public.

Associated Grants and Awards

Collaborative Research: Understanding GrIS moulin hydrology and links to ice motion, National Science Foundation (2016)

News & Media

Cold Summer in Greenland Studying How Ice Moves, Arkansas Newswire, 10/25/17

A Cold Summer in Greenland Studying How Ice Moves, Research Frontiers, 10/23/17

Funding provided by:

National Science Foundation

Principal Investigators

Matt Covington

Co-Principal Investigators

Adam Barnes

Key Personnel

Celia Trunz


GIS, GNSS and Mapping