Credit: Ian Joughin

We're not getting a lot of good news about glaciers these days, and an academic paper coming out on Friday in Science continues the trend.

Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the University of Washington (UW) have discovered that glaciers have plumbing systems. They have documented for the first time the sudden and complete drainage of a lake of meltwater from the top of the Greenland ice sheet to its base.

When meltwater penetrates the ice in this way, it lubricates the bottom of the glacier and can speed the large-scale summer movements of the ice sheet by up to 100 per cent.

Why is this bad? It's simple, really: lubricated glaciers slide faster, break up faster and melt faster.

Says the WHOI's Sarah Das: "The pools of meltwater that form on the surface in summer can actually drive a crack through the ice sheet. [This process] can create a conduit all the way down to the bed of the ice sheet.”

Take a look at our slideshow of photos of Greenland trip, kindly provided by Woods Hole. (Watching it in full-screen mode makes the captions easier to read.)

For more on the WHOI and UW trip to Greenland and their discoveries, go here.