Buildings and homes with ice bergs in the background.
Icebergs in Ilulissat, West Greenland. Photo: Ilona Mettiäinen.

Preventing ice sheet collapse by seabed anchored curtains in Greenland taking steps forward

26.10.2022 7:45

A process has started to connect scientists, engineers, writers, economists and politicians with the indigenous rightsholders in Greenland to discuss active conservation of the Greenland ice sheet. In their meetings in Reykjavik they have agreed that research on topic is urgently needed.

– Greenland can lead the world forward in managing global sea level and we are doing our best in finding a sustainable design for a seabed anchored curtain that would enable maintaining valued local fishing and tourism livelihoods as well as the traditional way of life, says research professor John Moore of the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. Moore is leading the international efforts to prevent ice sheet collapse by seabed anchored curtains.

 – At its core, this project is about sustainability and local acceptability of ice sheet conservation. A curtain must, for instance, maintain the rich food web in the fjord, adds researcher Ilona Mettiäinen of the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland. She has spent a lot of the past year in Greenland, interviewing and discussing with locals and representatives of key organizations.

– Lessons from Greenland can be applied to the even bigger sea level problems in Antarctica, Moore says. 

The UArctic Frederik Paulsen High Level Seminar was organized under the auspices of the University of the Arctic in Reykjavik in mid-October as a pre-event to the Arctic Circle Assembly to facilitate discussions with a number of stakeholders and rightsholders. 

– These discussions were a magnificent step forward, says Moore. The next steps include setting up an advisory committee to represent both local and international expertise and interests, and identify gaps in knowledge and focus areas of intensive research.

Globally respected engineering companies, such as Arup and Aker Solutions that have a solid and proven track record of solving the most difficult of challenges are also involved.

– This a great opportunity to challenge our brightest heads, in close collaboration with leading scientists in the field, with all agreed on the approach of “do no harm” says Aker’s Marianne Hagen, company’s vice president and head of sustainability. Limiting inflow of warm water, while allowing outflow of nutrient rich waters from the glacier will be complex and its feasibility needs detailed understanding of the nutrient flow and fish system needs – including insights from local fishers who have long and deep knowledge of the fjord ice/ system, and from scientific data collected in the waters.

Traditional hunters and fishers can benefit from cooler fjord waters stabilizing and thickening sea ice, and tourism gains an attraction in “seeing” active conservation although it is invisible from the surface, while icebergs may become larger. 

Monetizing the icesheets as a valued global resource similar to tropical rainforests requires specific new mechanisms to be developed for compensating Greenland for their guardianship of their ice sheet for the global benefit.

25.10. kuvio-korkeus 367-Schematic of a sea bed anchored curtain buoyantly floating from a foundation on the sea floor.png

Schematic of a sea bed anchored curtain buoyantly floating from a foundation on the sea floor.

More information:

Research Professor John Moore, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, ;, +358 400 194 850

Researcher Ilona Mettiäinen, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, +358 40 484 4273


Background: Ice sheet collapse and sea level curtains
Sea level rise is one the most important impacts of climate warming. It is also one the hardest to address because of the huge energy already absorbed by the oceans and the very long timescales needed to cool them. This means that sea level rise will continue for centuries after greenhouse gas concentrations stop rising. The warm oceans are largely responsible for destabilizing the vulnerable West Antarctic ice sheet, and also about half the ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet. Rapid icesheet collapse would produce rates of global sea level rise unprecedented in human history. Given the slow and limited response of sea level to emissions control, we need to look at alternative methods of stabilizing the ice sheets. The Greenland ice sheet is a key contributor to sea level rise and the Greenlandic people are the guardians of the ice sheet, which is also a global good in terms of climate change and important for maintaining the current global sea level. The iconic Sermeq Kujalleq (Jakobshavn glacier) is the largest contributor of ice bergs and sea level rise in the northern hemisphere. Ilulissat, the 3rd largest town in Greenland, benefits from the rich fishing associated with the glacier melt, and thousands of tourists are attracted to see the enormous icebergs near the town. 

Sermeq Kujalleq melt is driven by warm, salty waters, which lie at depths of a few hundred metres in the Atlantic Ocean. A natural step of sill at the mouth of the fjord acts to block most of the warm waters reaching the glacier, but as the Atlantic has warmed, melting has increased and the glacier has retreated. Raising the height of the step blocks some warm water, and lowers melting. A flexible buoyant curtain would be invisible from the surface, easily maintained, monitored and adjusted by local people, providing quality employment.