Across the Arctic, sea ice is disappearing, permafrost is thawing, and glaciers are melting, causing local and global changes to our planet. One important feature of the Arctic is Greenland. Much of Greenland, the largest island in the world, is covered by the Greenland Ice Sheet. The Greenland Ice Sheet is the second-largest ice sheet on Earth. Monthly satellite data of the region show that the Greenland Ice Sheet has been rapidly losing ice since the 1990s, making it the world’s largest contributor to sea level rise in recent decades. As the planet continues to warm, scientists predict that levels of melting will accelerate. These changes will dramatically transform Greenland’s landscape, impacting its ecosystems and communities, as well as increasing sea levels globally.
The better we understand the connections among environmental, biological, and human changes in Greenland, the more successfully we can mitigate the negative effects of rapid environmental change. QGreenland is a free and open-source mapping tool that can be used to better understand, monitor, and research the changes occurring in Greenland and the connections among them.
Exploring Greenland, digitally
QGreenland, which was created by an international team of researchers led by NSIDC’s Twila Moon, allows for the exploration of data on Greenland’s ocean, land, ice sheet, biology, and communities. Data within the tool are available from a range of disciplines, including glaciology, biology, environmental management, geopolitics, and hydrology, and QGreenland can be used for a wide variety of purposes. For example, users can study changes in ice sheet velocity, learn where wild animal populations roam across the island, and discover what types of permafrost are located in Greenland and where.
Users can access, download, add to, and conduct analyses on data within the QGreenland tool. It can be used both on- and offline, which means that it is available to researchers and Greenland residents even when they are out in remote field sites without internet access, and they can save their work within it as well. Users can also create visualizations and maps of Greenland using spatial data within the tool.
QGreenland is modeled after the Norwegian Polar Institute’s Quantarctica tool, which provides an interactive data environment for Antarctica.
Inspiring and expanding Greenland research
QGreenland is the first geographic information system (GIS) tool of its kind that revolves around Greenland and enables a diverse range of users to explore how Greenland’s landscape is changing. There are so many reasons that it is crucial that we study Greenland and the changes occurring there. Did you know, for example, that if the Greenland Ice Sheet melted out completely, sea levels could rise by 7.4 meters, or 24 feet? Forty-four percent of the world’s population lives within 150 kilometers (93 miles) of the sea, and eight out of the 10 largest cities in the world are located near the ocean. This means that Tokyo, Mumbai, New York City, Shanghai, Lagos, Los Angeles, Calcutta, and Buenos Aires could all be underwater in the centuries to come. How quickly and to what extent the Greenland Ice Sheet melts will determine the fates of these cities and their people. In addition, the melting of the ice sheet impacts Greenland locally and regionally, via exposure of new ocean area and coastal lands, changing nutrient and sediment transfer from land to ocean, and shifting resources for hunting and fishing. The better we understand the effects of global warming on Greenland, the more information and time we will have to adapt to the changes occurring now and in the future. QGreenland can help us to do that.
The QGreenland project team developed the tool to bring in new data users, inspire more and quicker data analysis, and drive new Greenland research. The team also hopes and anticipates that this tool will be useful to a variety of audiences beyond scientists, such as community resource managers, educators, and policymakers. A community resource manager, for example, could use the tool to find out what geographical features exist near his or her community, how these features are changing, and how this could affect resources within that community. A professor, on the other hand, could use the tool to help teach their students how to use GIS. The project team plans to develop educational curricula for middle and high school teachers as well as undergraduate professors to incorporate QGreenland into the classroom.
Contributions from an international team
The QGreenland project is managed by NSIDC in collaboration with multiple organizations from around the world. These collaborating organizations, which produce and hold data or serve in an advisory role, include the Norwegian Polar Institute, De Nationale Geologiske Undersøgelser for Danmark og Grønland, Danmarks Tekniske Universitet, Danmarks Meteorologiske Institut, Arctic Data Committee, International Arctic Science Committee, WWF-Danmark, U.S. Polar Geospatial Center, Greenland Ice Sheet Ocean Science Network, National Science Foundation Polar Computing RCN, Asiaq, and Isaaffik. An expanding international advisory board also provides input on the tool, helps the QGreenland team to identify data, and connects user communities to the development team. QGreenland is funded by the National Science Foundation’s EarthCube project, which focuses on fostering a better understanding of our complex and changing planet. Learn more by visiting the QGreenland website.