SEATTLE- University of Washington researchers are working with NASA to create digital maps of glaciers in Greenland.
For the first time this November, an airplane was able to take measurements during the fall to document any changes, according to UW researcher Ben Smith. Typically, the data is collected during the summer.
The information will be turned over to a team of UW researchers. Smith said their previous maps indicate that Greenland’s glaciers are shrinking.
"It is a question of how fast it happens. Is it going to happen faster in the future or continue at the rate we currently see," said Smith.
Smith attributes the change in the glaciers to hotter summers and warmer water.
"People normally think of the Greenland ice sheet as melting, but that's only about half of the ice loss it loses each year. The other half is because of big icebergs that break off," said UW researcher Ian Joughin.
The shrinking glaciers could cause the sea level to rise, according to UW researchers.
Joughin and Smith are working with NASA as part of Operation IceBridge.
As part of the project, an aircraft flies over Greenland to measure the height and width of the glaciers.
"The aircraft is equipped with a number of instruments. It has a laser for measuring surface height and has radar that seed all the way through the ice,” said Joughin.
The operation will continue until the launch of a new data collecting satellite in 2016, according to NASA’s website. The previous satellite stopped collecting information in 2009.