The Greenland Hazards Project
As the Arctic warms, the environment is rapidly changing; ice sheets, ice caps, and glaciers are thinning and receding; and permafrost is degrading. In some areas, such as southeastern Alaska and Greenland, these changes can trigger landslides, which in turn can generate localized tsunami-like waves when the landslides flow into fjords and other coastal waters. Since 1995, several coastal landslides have triggered tsunami-like waves, tragically resulting in the loss of lives, damage to infrastructure, and the abandonment of communities in western Greenland. This project is carefully mapping how Greenland is changing in response to ice thinning and is exploring the developing risk of landslides and other hazards. The research integrates local observations made by Greenlandic people in their communities with data collected through advanced remote sensing to learn how hazards evolve over time. The collaboration between US and Greenlandic scientists and Greenlandic residents will be critical to ensure that the research addresses community needs. This project is providing the first Greenland-wide analysis of unstable land and how hazards affect infrastructure and society, while prototyping a monitoring system that could provide warning of approaching large waves.
Researchers are examining and modeling high energy events such as rockslides and avalanches to ascertain their potential tsunami threats to communities around the country. The project team hypothesizes that the known distribution of recorded landslides is controlled by rock type, slope and aspect and then by proximity to retreating glaciers, changing permafrost, temperatures and precipitation. Satellite radar, optical imagery and topographic differencing are being used to investigate geophysical changes and how they alter hazards on regional scales. On local scales, drone surveys are examining permafrost changes and rock instabilities on seasonal to sub-daily timescales. Machine learning and modeling are being applied at all scales to identify patterns of change. In addition, a qualitative study is advancing our understanding of the communication processes through which scientific and Greenlandic communities give meaning to environmental changes and hazards through diverse ways of knowing and multiple forms of expertise. The project is building capacity for geodesy, remote sensing, and machine learning through a series of workshops in Greenland. A multilingual website is providing a source of open, intuitively understandable, and easily accessible information that municipalities can use to inform decision making and policy. The project is developing a communication-theory based virtual workshop on community engagement at annual NNA meetings that is being shared with program managers at NSF. The project data are useful to a wide range of disciplines, with work relevant to solid earth geophysics, glaciology, oceanography, natural hazards, and the field of communication.
For information on this project, please contact Mike Willis.
Photo credits: Mike Willis
- Mike Willis
- CU Boulder