Skip navigation and jump directly to page content

 IU Trident Indiana University

Operation IceBridge

Field Cyberinfrastructure PI: Richard J. Knepper

3D Greenland Canyon
3D Imaging View of the Greenland canyon, courtesy Bristol University
Flight Computers
Forward Observer System in preparation to be installed on NASA’s flight platform.

Researchers using data collected by NASA Operation IceBridge flights have discovered that under the Greenland Ice Sheet is a massive, 460-mile-long continuous canyon with the characteristics of a river channel. It begins around the center of the island and runs northward to the fjord of the Petermann glacier, and is thought to predate the ice sheet itself, which has covered Greenland for the last few million years. The feature is longer than the Grand Canyon, and as deep in some places as 2,600 feet.

The discovery shows that we do not yet fully understand our world. Researchers had no idea that such a large feature existed beneath the ice. The discovery will help inform scientific understanding of how glacial meltwater from the interior of the island reaches the surrounding ocean. It is also an example of the scientific advances that can be made when multiple groups collaborate and share data. "Two things helped lead to this discovery," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It was the enormous amount of data collected by IceBridge and the work of combining it with other datasets into a Greenland-wide compilation of all existing data that makes this feature appear in front of our eyes."

This discovery was a collaborative effort involving the compilation of airborne radar data collected over several decades from researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. NASA’s Operation IceBridge team collected the bulk of the data (2009-2012), with Indiana University fielding a team of IT professionals who provided cyberinfrastructure support for data collection, verification, and processing of data collected in the field and at home after the end of each data collection season. IU created an instrument-driven system, the Forward Observer, to allow data capture and processing while NASA’s radar plane is in flight.

NSF GSS Codes:

Primary Field: Geosciences (302) Earth Sciences

Secondary Field: Computer Science (401) Data Modeling