Greenlandic Ice Cap Water. Technical Report on five potential locations for meltwater export for the 2nd licensing round

Research output: Book/ReportReport (publicly available)


This report contains information on five selected locations that may be utilized for industrial collection of drinking water, and provides the technical background for the second licensing round of the Greenland Government in its Strategy for Export of Ice and Water. This report is not aimed at addressing any technical or engineering questions posed by the locations or water treatment, but only concerns the natural environment and the quality of the water as it was sampled. A prerequisite in the investigation has been that the water should be at least partly derived from meltwater originating either from the Greenland Ice Sheet or from local glaciers and ice caps. The identification and selection process for locations was de-scribed in detail in Ahlstrøm et al. (2018) and updated in Kjeldsen et al. (2019). Locations are defined as outlets of a significant meltwater river to accessible fjords in the southwestern part of Greenland, to minimize potential sea ice and iceberg interference. Catchments for each location or river outlet were derived employing advanced hydrological methods, using the most recent elevation models available.

The five selected locations represent different catchment sizes with varying amounts of discharge, ranging from roughly 290,000 million litres per year, down to slightly over 10,000 million litres per year. The rivers at all locations are, on average, discharging water from May to November with the vast majority of water discharging in the period June-September. A comparison between modelled discharge for the catchments for the two periods 1980-1991 and 2006-2017, showed an increase in the discharge at all sites except one, which was stable. A similar method was also used to examine the change in discharge over the last few decades, showing a promising overall melt increase of more than 50 % for the region.

The five selected locations were visited by boat to sample the water and collect additional data. The field visits were conducted in June and September in either 2018 or 2019, to capture the seasonal variability in the water quality. Two locations drain ice sheet catch-ments and three locations drain catchments with local mountain glaciers and ice caps.

An extensive analysis of chemical, physical and microbiological parameters was performed on the water samples. Some types of analyses had to be performed on-site, some were performed at GEUS laboratories, and some at certified commercial laboratories.

All of the locations provide large amounts of meltwater during the summer from June-September, with river outlets being relatively near deep fjord waters. The meltwater con-tains varying amounts of sediment derived from glacier erosion of the bedrock, requiring filtration of the meltwater before use. For all five locations, inorganic parameters are below drinking water requirements and guidelines in filtered water samples. Gentle UV-treatment of the water is recommended, as is commonly required for surface water, as microbiological parameters generally exceed the guideline limits at all locations.

While the water quality can be expected to vary over the season, the results provide a strong indication of the potential for export of drinking water from meltwater rivers in Greenland.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCopenhagen
Commissioning bodyNaalakkersuisut /Self-Government of Greenland
Number of pages68
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020

Publication series

SeriesDanmarks og Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse Rapport


  • Greenland

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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