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Montana-based Scientist Twila Moon Uses “Big Data” to Study the Cryosphere via QGreenland

By: Sneha Lele, San Diego Supercomputer Center Intern

The cryosphere, which refers to the areas of all frozen solids on Earth, has been studied by

scientists for many years. The utilization of “big data” provides insightful information for cryosphere researchers, and QGreenland is an example of a project doing just that.

Bringing instruments to land and Researchers checking instruments

Through QGreenland, a geospatial data package running on the QGIS software, scientists are able to understand the Greenland cryosphere and its interaction with the ocean, climate, and living systems around it. For more than 15 years, Montana-based Twila Moon of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder has been using data from computer simulations and space to understand ice and climate change.

Moon’s main focus has been on Greenland and the Arctic,including the Greenland Ice Sheet, one of the largest ice bodies in the world. She explained that this ice sheet, which covers 80 percent of Greenland, acts as a global water tower, storing more than 24 feet worth of sea level rise as frozen water, preventing that water from inundating our coasts. .

Forming a protective layer over the surface of the Earth, ice glaciers reflect solar radiation back into space, indirectly cooling our planet and slowing the detrimental effects of global warming.

Moon said that Earth is now losing ice mass at a rate of more than 600 billion tons per year due to global warming, resulting in increased sea levels.

National Snow and Ice Data Center

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), glaciers serve as indicators of climate change; their movements and size provide visible evidence of Earth’s temperature and precipitation changes. Researchers have found that losing even a fraction of this ice

causes sea level rise and associated flooding, inundation of coastal sewer and water systems, and coastal erosion; reductions in glacier meltwater available for drinking, irrigations, and hydropower; changes in ecosystems; and negative impacts on tourism and local economies.

“It was clearer to me [more] than ever that we are losing ice at a pace we cannot afford,” Moon said. “The choices we’ve made have made warmer air, warmer oceans, and shrinking ice.”

But thanks to “big data” such as that available via QGreenland, scientists are able to study the loss of mass from the ice sheets, and changes in sea ice and snow cover, while monitoring the rising sea levels.

“It’s truly the actions we take this year, and over the next ten that will fundamentally change the world for future generations,” Moon says. “Your actions matter, and action is within reach.”


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