Earth from Space: Greenland’s east coast

30 October 2009

The highly indented and ruggedly mountainous coast of eastern Greenland, one of the most isolated habitations in the world, is featured in this Envisat image. Covering more than 2 000 000 sq km, Greenland is the world’s largest island.

The Greenland Sea, a southern arm of the Arctic Ocean, is visible along the right side of the image. The south-easterly portion of the Northeast Greenland National Park, the world’s largest and most northerly national park, is visible (in white) along the left. The colourful, narrow inlet (10–25 km wide) visible near the bottom of the image is Kong Oscar Fjord. Fjords are deep coastal valleys formed by glacial action and flooded by the sea. Scoresby Sund, the world's longest fjord, is located south of Kong Oscar (not visible).

Located directly above Kong Oscar is Traill Island (with two easterly facing prongs). The long, horizontal island above Traill is the Geographical Society Island. The slightly inset island above that is Ymer.

Daneborg is the island visible on the top right. It serves as the headquarters for dog sled patrollers of the Northeast Greenland National Park and has a year-round population of 12.

Almost all of Greenland’s flora and fauna live in the park (972 000 sq km). The large interior of the park is part of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which has an area of 1 833 900 sq km and an average thickness of 2.3 km. It is the second largest concentration of frozen freshwater on Earth and if it were to melt completely, global sea level would increase by up to seven metres.

ESA's satellite radar imagery has played a central role in scientists’ findings on changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet. In 2006, Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and University of Kansas scientist Pannir Kanagaratnam measured glacier velocities using ESA’s ERS-1 and ERS-2 data collected in winter 1996, Canada’s Radarsat-1’s radar interferometry data collected in fall 2000 and spring and summer 2005 and Envisat Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) acquired in summer 2004.

They found Greenland’s southern glaciers were dumping twice as much ice yearly into the Atlantic as they did in 1996, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the estimated 2.54 millimetre annual rise in global sea levels.

The influx of freshwater into the North Atlantic from any increase in melting from the Greenland Ice Sheet could also weaken the Gulf Stream, potentially seriously impacting the climate of northern Europe and the wider world.

As radar images represent surface backscatter rather than reflected light, there is no colour in a standard radar image. This image was created by combining three Envisat ASAR acquisitions (23 November 2008, 28 December 2008 and 1 February 2009) taken over the same area. The colours in the image result from variations in the surface that occurred between acquisitions.

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