EarthCube Initiative Develops Tool to Study Greenland and its Melting Ice Sheet

International Geoscientists Unite to Create Open-Source GIS Tool Coined QGreenland


Kayaks line the racks in the town of Ilulissat on the western Greenland coast. Credit: Twila Moon


Greenland, the world’s largest island, has long been known as a sparsely populated, ice-capped home for polar bears, reindeer, and Arctic foxes. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers more than 80 percent of the island – stretching some 1500 miles long by 460 miles wide. However, conditions in Greenland are changing rapidly. According to NOAA’s Arctic Report Card, last year’s ice melt was similar to the alarming ice loss of 2012, and the ice sheet has lost ice every year for the last two decades.


To better understand the issues surrounding Greenland’s declining ice sheet and how these changes are connected with land, people, plants, and animals, EarthCube has funded an international team of scientists ranging from ecologists and geologists to climatologists and software developers to create QGreenland, a free mapping tool to support interdisciplinary Greenland-focused research, teaching, decision making, and collaboration.


Researchers involved in the project are combining key datasets into a unified, all-in-one GIS analysis and visualization environment for offline and online use. A beta version has been released for testing and is available for download on the QGreenland Explore webpage.


Led by Twila Moon, a research scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, QGreenland was created for researchers, educators, policy makers, and citizen scientists.


“We designed QGreenland so that everyone from a glacier researcher in the Arctic to a middle school teacher in the U.S. can explore data about Greenland, visualizing how Greenland is changing and see how elements across the system interact,” said Moon. “Education is key for informing both the academic community and the general public about rapid changes in the Arctic, and thanks to EarthCube, our QGreenland project will be able to provide data to all.”


“Average sea levels around the world would rise 25 feet if the entire ice sheet melted,” she continued. “But, thankfully, the future is not yet finalized. Human decisions and actions have the power to shape this ice sheet and the effect it will have around the world.”


Rapid glacier retreat is visible at Eqi Glacier in western Greenland, exposing lighter rock as the ice disappears. Credit: Twila Moon


Moon has dedicated her career to understanding Greenland’s ice sheet and using science to inspire climate action, and further explained that “We hope that by learning about Greenland through QGreenland, scientists can better understand the changes happening and the public and decision makers can also increase their knowledge and connection to Greenland and the Arctic. Hopefully inspiration for valuing this critical place and for strong climate action will arise from people exploring the fascinating QGreenland environment.”


Funding for QGreenland was provided by the National Science Foundation (1928393).

-Kimberly Mann Bruch