By Jonathan Chadwick For Mailonline
Published: 20:00 GMT, 2 December 2019 | Updated: 10:54 GMT, 3 December 2019
Captivating images capture by custom-built drones have revealed the damage to the Greenland Ice Sheet that is being caused by rising global temperatures.
The images, which have been taken as part of an EU-funded project to track changes in the world's second-largest ice sheet, are the first drone-based observations of how fractures form and expand under meltwater lakes.
The expanding fractures cause catastrophic lake drainages, during which huge quantities of water are transferred to below the surface of the ice.
Scroll down for video
In just five hours, five million cubic metres of water – the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – drained to the bottom of the ice sheet via an ice fracture, according to the study
Changes in ice flow occur on a much shorter timescales than were previously considered possible, said the research team, which was led by the University of Cambridge.
'It's possible we've under-estimated the effects of these glaciers on the overall instability of the Greenland Ice Sheet,' said drone pilot Tom Chudley, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute.
'It's a rare thing to actually observe these fast-draining lakes — we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.'
The Greenland ice sheet covers 1,710,000 square kilometres — around 80 per cent of the surface of Greenland.
As the weather warms each summer thousands of caverns — known as 'moulins' — form on the surface of the ice, through which water descends right down to the bottom.
Throughout the summer, meltwater continues to descend down these fractures, creating massive waterfalls down the depth of the ice sheet, which can be around 1 kilometre thick.
Researchers say it is possible that the instability of the Greenland Ice Sheet — which is the single largest contributor to global sea level rise — has been underestimated
From their camp at Store Glacier, northwest Greenland, researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Aberystwyth and Lancaster used drones to observe how one fracture extended 500 metres down into the ice.
In just five hours, five million cubic metres of water — the equivalent of 2,000