CR
Cryospheric Sciences

Cryospheric Sciences

Image of the Week — Cavity leads to complexity

Aerial view of Thwaites Glacier [Credit: NASA/OIB/Jeremy Harbeck].

 

A 10km-long, 4-km-wide and 350m-high cavity has recently been discovered under one of the fastest-flowing glaciers in Antarctica using different airborne and satellite techniques (see this press release and this study). This enormous cavity previously contained 14 billion tons of ice and formed between 2011 and 2016. This indicates that the bottom of the big glaciers on Earth can melt faster than expected, with the potential to raise sea level more quickly than we thought. Let’s see in further details how the researchers made this discovery.


Thwaites Glacier

Thwaites Glacier is a wide and fast-flowing glacier flowing in West Antarctica. Over the last years, it has undergone major changes. Its grounding line (separation between grounded ice sheet and floating ice shelf) has retreated inland by 0.3 to 1.2 km per year in average since 2011. The glacier has also thinned by 3 to 7 m per year. Several studies suggest that this glacier is already engaged in an unstoppable retreat (e.g. this study), called ‘marine ice sheet instability’, with the potential to raise sea level by about 65 cm.

Identifying cavities

With the help of airborne and satellite measurement techniques, the researchers that carried out this study have discovered a 10km-long, 4km-wide and 350m-high cavity that formed between 2011 and 2016 more than 1 km below the ice surface. In Figure 2B, you can identify this cavity around km 20 along the T3-T4 profile between the green line (corresponding to the ice bottom in 2011) and the red line (ice bottom in 2016). According to the researchers, the geometry of the bed topography in this region allowed a significant amount of warm water from the ocean to come underneath the glacier and progressively melt its base. This lead to the creation of a huge cavity.

Fig. 2: A) Ice surface and bottom elevations in 2014 (blue) and 2016 (red) retrieved from airborne and satellite remote sensing along the T1-T2 profile identified in Fig. 2C. B) Ice surface and bottom elevations in 2011 (green) and 2016 (red) along the T3-T4 profile. C) Changes in ice surface elevation between 2011 and 2017. The ticks on the T1-T2 and T3-T4 profiles are marked every km [Credit: adapted with permission from Figure 3 of Milillo et al. (2019)].

What does it mean?

In order to make accurate projections of future sea-level rise coming from specific glaciers, such as Thwaites Glacier, ice-sheet models need to compute rates of basal melting in agreement with observations. This implies a correct representation of the bed topography and ice bottom underneath the glacier.

However, the current ice-sheet models usually suffer from a too low spatial resolution and use a fixed shape to represent cavities. Thus, these models probably underestimate the loss of ice coming from fast-flowing glaciers, such as Thwaites Glacier. By including the results coming from the observations of this study and further ongoing initiatives (such as the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration), ice-sheet models would definitely improve and better capture the complexity of glaciers.

Further reading

Edited by Sophie Berger


David Docquier is a post-doctoral researcher at the Earth and Life Institute of Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Belgium. He works on the development of processed-based sea-ice metrics in order to improve the evaluation of global climate models (GCMs). His study is embedded within the EU Horizon 2020 PRIMAVERA project, which aims at developing a new generation of high-resolution GCMs to better represent the climate.

 

Image of the Week – Cryo Connect presents: The top 50 media-covered cryosphere papers of 2018

Discover which cryospheric research articles were most successful in attracting media attention in 2018 according to the Altmetric score.


Cryo Connect and Altmetric

Scientists are generally aware of each others’ studies. But when a scientific study generates media interest, its impact can be boosted beyond the scientific community. The media can push the essence of scientific study to the broader public through newspapers and news websites, television and social media. It all counts, and Altmetric tracks mentions of scientific studies across many media outlets. 

Cryo Connect is all about boosting outreach communication in cryospheric sciences, and developing a joint AGU- and EGU-endorsed community outreach platform for cryospheric researchers. So we comb through Altmetric data each year to see which cryospheric studies are garnering top media coverage. Visit https://CryoConnect.net to learn how to help boost your cryospheric research, or simply tag @CryoConnect on Twitter.

The colors of the Altmetric badges represent the different types of media coverage.

Cryospheric Top 50

What does the top 3 look like?
A Nature study that developed a consensus estimate of the mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet garnered the most attention of any cryosphere study in 2018. This study was authored by the 80-author “IMBIE”, or Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise, team. The second most media-featured cryosphere study of 2018 was a Science Advances study, which described an impact crater beneath the Hiawatha Glacier in Northwest Greenland, by Kurt Kjaer and 22 colleagues. The third most media-featured study of 2018 was a Nature study that documented a non-linear increase in meltwater runoff from the Greenland Ice Sheet since the industrial revolution, by Luke Tusel and eight colleagues.

The five most popular scientific journals of the top-50 list are: Nature Communications (9 studies), Geophysical Research Letters (8 studies), Nature (6 studies), and Science Advances and Nature Geoscience (5 studies each). Together, these five journals published two-thirds of the 50-top cryospheric science studies. Perhaps interestingly, Nature Communications and Science Advances are both relatively new journals — both less than eight years old — that provide gold open-access venues. Both EGU (The Cryosphere) and AGU (Geophysical Research Letters) journals are featured on the top-50 list.

There is a notable year-on-year increase in Altmetric scores comprising the top-50 list. At the low end, the rank #50 cut-off Altmetric score increased from 201 in 2017 to 293 in the 2018 list presented here. At the high end, the rank #1 Altmetric score increased from 1330 in 2017 to 3379 in 2018. Overall, the average top-50 Altmetric score increased from 442 in 2017 to 744 in 2018. We used the same methodology, described below, to generate the 2017 and 2018 top-50 lists.

It is difficult to precisely explain this year-on-year increase in Altmetric scores within the cryospheric sciences. There could be an increasing trend in cryosphere science coverage in the media, or improved detection of media coverage by Altmetric, or perhaps 2018 just had an unusually strong batch of cryospheric studies published. In any case, we congratulate all the authors of 2018’s top media-covered cryospheric studies on the well-deserved media attention that they have received, and the exposure they have given to cryospheric science!

Rank Altmetric Score Publication title Journal
1 Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017 Nature
2 A large impact crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier in northwest Greenland Science Advances
3 Nonlinear rise in Greenland runoff in response to post-industrial Arctic warming Nature
4 Viable nematodes from late Pleistocene permafrost of the Kolyma River Lowland, Doklady Biological Sciences
5 Arctic sea ice is an important temporal sink and means of transport for microplastic Nature Communications
6 Exposed subsurface ice sheets in the Martian mid-latitudes Science
7 Direct evidence of surface exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
8 Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States Nature Communications
9 Net retreat of Antarctic glacier grounding lines Nature Geoscience
10 The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets under 1.5 °C global warming Nature Climate Change
11 Trends and connections across the Antarctic cryosphere Nature
12 Permafrost stores a globally significant amount of mercury Geophysical Research Letters
13 Near-surface environmentally forced changes in the Ross Ice Shelf observed with ambient seismic noise Geophysical Research Letters
14 Reduced probability of ice-free summers for 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C warming Nature Climate Change
15 21st-century modeled permafrost carbon emissions accelerated by abrupt thaw beneath lakes Nature Communications
16 Observed rapid bedrock uplift in Amundsen Sea Embayment promotes ice-sheet stability Science
17 Formation of metre-scale bladed roughness on Europa’s surface by ablation of ice Nature Geoscience
18 On the propagation of acoustic–gravity waves under elastic ice sheets Journal of Fluid Mechanics
19 The influence of Arctic amplification on mid-latitude summer circulation Nature Communications
20 Topographic steering of enhanced ice flow at the bottleneck between East and West Antarctica Geophysical Research Letters
21 Warming of the interior Arctic Ocean linked to sea ice losses at the basin margins Science Advances
22 Evidence of an active volcanic heat source beneath the Pine Island Glacier Nature Communications
23 Experimental evidence for superionic water ice using shock compression Nature Physics
24 Variation in rising limb of Colorado River snowmelt runoff hydrograph controlled by dust radiative forcing in snow Geophysical Research Letters
25 Vulnerability of Arctic marine mammals to vessel traffic in the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
26 Stopping the flood: could we use targeted geoengineering to mitigate sea level rise? The Cryosphere
27 Limited influence of climate change mitigation on short-term glacier mass loss Nature Climate Change
28 Degrading permafrost puts Arctic infrastructure at risk by mid-century Nature Communications
29 Seismology gets under the skin of the Antarctic Ice Sheet Geophysical Research Letters
30 Dark zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet controlled by distributed biologically-active impurities Nature Communications
31 Freshening by glacial meltwater enhances melting of ice shelves and reduces formation of Antarctic Bottom Water Science Advances
32 Ice core records of west Greenland melt and climate forcing Geophysical Research Letters
33 Arctic warming hotspot in the northern Barents Sea linked to declining sea-ice import Nature Climate Change
34 Path-dependent reductions in CO2 emission budgets caused by permafrost carbon release Nature Geoscience
35 Discovery of a hypersaline subglacial lake complex beneath Devon Ice Cap, Canadian Arctic Science Advances
36 Cascading lake drainage on the Greenland Ice Sheet triggered by tensile shock and fracture Nature Communications
37 Global sea-level contribution from Arctic land ice: 1971–2017 Environmental Research Letters
38 Discovery of moganite in a lunar meteorite as a trace of H2O ice in the Moon’s regolith Science Advances
39 The world’s largest High Arctic lake responds rapidly to climate warming Nature Communications
40 Mass loss of Totten and Moscow University Glaciers, East Antarctica, using regionally optimized GRACE mascons Geophysical Research Letters
41 A 400-Year ice core melt layer record of summertime warming in the Alaska Range Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
42 What drives 20th century polar motion? Earth & Planetary Science Letters
43 Response of Pacific-sector Antarctic ice shelves to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation Nature Geoscience
44 Dynamic response of Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet to potential collapse of Larsen C and George VI ice shelves The Cryosphere
45 Increased West Antarctic and unchanged East Antarctic ice discharge over the last 7 years The Cryosphere
46 Change in future climate due to Antarctic meltwater Nature
47 Antarctic ice shelf disintegration triggered by sea ice loss and ocean swell Nature
48 Heterogeneous and rapid ice loss over the Patagonian Ice Fields revealed by CryoSat-2 swath radar altimetry Remote Sensing of Environment
49 Persistent polar ocean warming in a strategically geoengineered climate Nature Geoscience
50 Ice loss from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet during late Pleistocene interglacials Nature

Methodology

This top-50 cryospheric articles list was compiled using access to the Altmetric Explorer database provided by Altmetric. Similar to the 2017 top-50 list of cryospheric studies, we searched Altmetric Explorer for all peer-reviewed articles published between 1 January and 31 December 2018 that were within the field-of-research codes for Atmospheric Science (0401), Geochemistry (0402), Geology (0403), Geophysics (0404), Physical Geography and Environmental Science (0406), Environmental Science and Management (0502), Soil Sciences (0503) or Other Environmental Sciences (0599). We further limited qualifying articles to those with keywords of Antarctic, Arctic, Cryosphere, Firn, Frozen, Glacier, Glaciology, Ice, Iceberg, Permafrost, Polar and Snow.

The resulting articles were then ranked by Altmetric score. The Altmetric scores shown here are characteristic of 29 March 2019, and will tend to grow over time with subsequent media coverage. Please contact info@cryoconnect.net if you have questions about methodology or oversights.

This is a joint post, published together with Cryo Connect.

Edited by Sophie Berger and Violaine Coulon


Cryo Connect is an initiative run by Dirk van As, Faezeh Nick, William Colgan and Inka Koch.

A brief guide to Navigating EGU 2019!

A brief guide to Navigating EGU 2019!

Are you going to the EGU General Assembly in Vienna next week? If so, read on for a quick guide to navigating the week: Where to start, what to see and how to meet people and enjoy yourself! After all, the meeting is as much about the opportunities to meet scientists from all over the world as it is about the science itself.


How on Earth do I know what is going on?!

The EGU General Assembly (GA) is a massive meeting with many parallel session, short courses, medal lectures and much more. So how do you know what is going on and when, and how can you effectively keep track of it all?

The simplest way is to use the online EGU program – it has options to browse sessions of interest chronologically or by discipline. You can simply click on a session or an individual presentation to add it to your personal programme. You can then view your personal program online, print it as a PDF or use the EGU2019 mobile app to keep track of your personal program on the go. The app also has a handy map feature, to help you find your way around AND new for 2019, a digital version of “EGU Today” – the daily EGU GA newsletter

Don’t forget to keep track of the twitter hastags #EGU19 and #EGU19_CR to see what is happening on a second by second basis and also the @EGU_CR twitter feed!

New Schedule for 2019!

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that the timing of sessions at EGU has changed this year. The new schedule has posters, orals and PICOs in parallel (posters always used to be in the afternoon only!)  and each “block” (i.e. one session of talks, posters or PICOs) is 15 minutes longer than before.

  • 08:30–10:15 – Posters, orals, PICOs
  • 10:15–10:45 – Coffee break
  • 10:45–12:30 – Posters, orals, PICOs
  • 12:30–14:00 – Lunch break
  • 14:00–15:45 – Posters, orals, PICOs
  • 15:45–16:15 – Coffee break
  • 16:15–18:00  – Posters, orals, PICOs
  • 18:00–19:00  – Beer/soft drinks – Networking
  • 19:00–20:00 – Townhall meetings, (some) medal lectures, (some) short courses, special events!

Note: If you have a poster, you should put it up before 08:30 on the day of your session. It will stay up all day, but you will only be expected to stand by it and present in your allocation time slot. Don’t forget to take it down between 19:00-19:30 if you want to keep it!


Urm… so I made it to Vienna – where is the conference centre?

The EGU General Assembly is held at the Austria Center Vienna (ACV) each year. The nearest metro stop is “Kaisermühlen/Vienna Int. Centre” on the U1 line – here is a handy Metro Plan! When you leave the station there will be plenty of signs to the conference – if in doubt follow the large group of Geoscientists (they can usually be recognised by their practical footwear and waterproof jackets 😉 )

The registration fee to the General Assembly includes a public transportation ticket. The public transportation ticket is valid Monday–Friday, 8–12 April 2019. More info on travel can be found here.


Social events Cryospheric Scientists!

So you have spend your days at EGU absorbing plenty of science… but there is another very important aspect to conferences – they are a great place to socialise! However, it can be very daunting to know how and where to meet people at such a large meeting.

This year the EGU Cryosphere team are organising two social events joint with APECS. Come along, meet some new people and enjoy a coffee, beer, soft drink – whatever takes your fancy! We also wanted to highlight this year’s Pride@EGU event – open to anyone!

Pre-Icebreaker Meet Up

When and Where: Sunday 7 Apr, from 16:00-18:00 at Cafe Merkur (U-bahn –  U2 – Rathaus)

Pre-icebreaker meet up EGU 2017

The conference icebreaker can be a daunting experience to attend alone but it is a great event to go along to. We are organising a friendly pre-icebreaker meet up for cryospheric and polar ECSs. We will meet up, have a chat, have a coffee/beer/cake and then head to the EGU conference centre together in time for the main icebreaker. Keep your eyes on the Facebook event for more details!

Cryo Drinks!

When and Where: Tuesday evening 9th April from 20:30 at Brandauer Bierbögen (U-bahn – Spittelau – U4 & U6)

This year we are there will be a return of the infamous Cryo meet-up with a small change – it will be a drinks only event this year (it was simply too big and hectic with everyone eating last year!). So come along and meet some fellow cryo-people old and new. If you want to travel from the conference centre together, we will meet after the ECS Networking Event at 20:00 at the main entrance (look for the blue and white EGU Cryosphere signs!) or you can meet us at Brandauer Bierbögen from 20:30.

Please remember to bring cash to pay for your own drinks (it will be very slow if 50+ people are trying to pay by card!)

Follow the Facebook event for updates and hopefully see plenty of faces old and new there 😀

Pride @ EGU

When and Where: Tuesday 9th April, 15:00-16:00 – Networking & ECS Zone (Red Level)

The main event is from 15:00 – 16:00 plus Twitter chat from 14:30! Pop along to support and find out more about the LGBTQA+ community at EGU. Open to anyone who is interested.


Conference highlights for ECSs:

There are so many courses and sessions running at EGU this year – we have highlighted a few below, but be sure to check out the full list in the online program (see above) as well as this helpful guide to “Session of special interest to Early Career Scientists (ECS)” published by EGU and this blog post “What is on for ECSs at EGU” by Oliver Trani the EGU Communications officer.

How to navigate EGU: tips & tricks

When and Where: Monday 08th Apr, 08:30–10:15 / Room -2.16 (Brown Level)

Held first thing on Monday morning, this could be just the session you need to get your week off to a productive start!

Help! I’m presenting at a scientific conference!

When and Where: Monday 08th Apr, 14:00–15:45 / Room -2.62 (Brown Level)

Presenting at a scientific conference can be daunting for early career scientist and established. How can you optimally take advantage of those 12 minutes to communicate your research effectively? How do you cope with nervousness? What happens if someone asks a question that you don’t think you can answer?

Come along to this short course on the Monday of EGU for some tips, tricks and advice!

Polar Science Career Panel (EGU Cryosphere and APECS)

When and Where: Tuesday 9th Apr, 12:45–13:45 / Room -2.32 (Brown Level)

Many early career scientists come to EGU looking for inspiration to take the next step in their careers. There are so many opportunities both academic and elsewhere that it can be daunting to know where to start looking and what the options are. Join us for a panel discussion about everything to do with life post-polar-PhD and expand your ideas about where you might go next!

If you can’t make it on the day, but want to see what our panelists have to say, follow the @EGU_CR twitter feed and hastag #EGU19_CR for a live-tweet of the event!

Cryosphere Division Meeting

When and Where: Thursday 11th Apr, 12:45–13:45 / Room N1 (Green Level)

Each division at EGU has a meeting during the GA, please come along to the Cryosphere Divisions meeting to learn more about what the EGU CR division does, who runs it and have your say! ECSs are particularly important – you are the future of EGU!

Meet The Cryosphere Editor! 

When and Where: Friday 12th Apr, 16:15–18:00 / Room -2.31 (Brown Level)

Publishing your research in a peer reviewed journal is essential for a career in research, however, getting those first few papers submitted can be daunting. This short course, given by the co editor-in-chief of The Cryosphere Thomas Mölg, will cover all you need to know about the publication process from start to end!


Things to keep in Mind:

This comes from a longer list the EGU provide here, but these are my highlights!

  • Bring a water bottle! There are water fountains all around the building and Vienna tap water is delicious!
  • EGU’s person of trust: if you experienced infringements against the rules of conduct, feel uncomfortable or experience any harassment, upset or abuse during the meeting, please contact EGU’s person of trust at the special registration desk in Hall X5. You can also contact the EGU Information in the entrance hall (Yellow Level 0 – ground floor) and they will call the person of trust. It is also possible to report to conduct@egu.eu.
  • Preferred pronouns: pick up a badge for your lanyard with your preferred pronouns from the EGU Booth in Hall X2 (Brown Level -2 – basement), the registration help desk in Hall X5, or the EGU Information (Yellow Level 0 – ground floor).

Some more general advice from your Cryosphere ECS rep…

The General Assembly can be an overwhelming experience. Take advantage of the lunch breaks and go for a walk! When you exit the main conference building turn left and head for the river, or turn right and you will find that behind the concrete buildings there is a very nice park. Beyond that, explore Vienna and treat yourself to a bit of time off to recover during the week. It is more important to pay attention to the sessions you do attend than attend ALL of the possible sessions. Did you know a Vienna U-Bahn ticket is included in the registration fee? Jump on a train the centre of town and go for a stroll!


Am I an ECS?

The EGU officially defines an Early Career Scientist (ECS) as:

an undergraduate or postgraduate (Masters/PhD) student or a scientist who has received his or her highest degree (BSc, MSc, or PhD) within the past seven years  (where appropriate, up to one year of parental leave time may be added per child).

However, everyone is of course more than welcome to come along and attend the short courses and social events organised by your ECS team, the more the merrier!


Edited by Sophie Berger

Image of the Week – 5th Snow Science Winter School

The participants to the 5th Snow Science Winter School [Credit: Anna Kontu]

 

From February 17th to 23rd, 21 graduate students and postdoctorate researchers from around the world made their way to Hailuoto, a small island on the coast of Finland, to spend a week learning about snow on sea-ice for the 5th Snow Science Winter School. The course, jointly organized by the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, brought together a wide range of scientists interested in snow: climate modellers, large-scale hydrologists, snow microstructure modellers, sea-ice scientists and remote sensing experts studying the Arctic, Antarctica and various mountain ranges. The week was spent between field sessions out on the sea-ice, daily lectures, and data analysis sessions, punctuated by amazing food and Finnish saunas to finish the day!


Field sessions

Our field sessions focused on learning to use both standard snow measurement techniques and advanced state-of-the-art methods. We first practiced sampling the thin, crusty snowpack with traditional methods: digging snow pits and recording grain size, temperature profile and density. We then moved to advanced techniques, learning about micro-tomography – which generates 3D images of the snow without destroying the way the individual ice crystals are arranged, near-infrared imagery and the measurement of specific surface area of the snow crystals by recording how a laser beam is reflected and modified as it passes through the snow sample.  These techniques all give information on how the snow crystals are arranged in the snow pack that are not obtainable with the traditional techniques. They also give important parameters for remote sensing validation and snowpack modelling.

The lecturers had brought with them some of the most advanced instruments, in some cases their own unique prototypes, giving us an amazing opportunity to practice working with these instruments. Amongst them was the SLF SnowMicroPen, which can measure the mechanical resistance of the snowpack, the optical sensors IRIS and SnowCube which use the reflection from a laser beam to calculate the surface area of the snow crystals, and a small radar which relates the conductivity of snow to the amount of liquid water mixed in with the snow and the density. On top of that, we honed our sea-ice drilling and measurement skills.  During our field sessions, we were exposed to all the conditions a field researcher might experience, from cloudy skies, over to high winds threatening to blow away all your equipment to crisp, cold blue skies.

The students braving the winds to collect data [Credit: Guillaume Couture]

Practicing snow crystal identification under blowing snow conditions [Credit: Anika Rohde].

Lectures

Our daily lectures covered a range of topics, leaning on the expertise of the instructors of the course. After a short introduction about sea-ice, a well-needed refresher considering the wide range of backgrounds of the participants, we jumped into snow-science. We learned about snow measurements from a field, remote sensing, and modelling perspective. The lectures sparked multiple discussions, from the continual need for more ground-validation for remote sensing data, over spatial representativeness and accuracy of the field samples to modelling approaches and a consideration of the limitations of the observational datasets.

Final projects

After learning how to use these fancy and expensive instruments and using our newly gained knowledge of snow on sea-ice, we were given a day to plan our own field session, collect data, analyze the results and present our result to the other groups on the final afternoon. Some very ambitious projects were quickly checked by reality in the field and the snow conditions were exceptionally challenging. This meant that our data might not perhaps yield any scientific breakthroughs in the field of snow science, but that we certainly learned how to adapt measurement and analysis designs on the fly and will hopefully all have an all-weather plan for the next expedition out into the snow for our various projects at home.

Calculating specific area with the SnowCube [Credit: Anika Rohde].

More than the science

On our second evening, we braved the elements for the ice breaker held in a tent on the sea ice. Luckily, only the ice between the students and lecturers broke so that everyone appeared again at breakfast the next day. The delicious food kept us warm for the duration of the trip and anyone still feeling cold could enjoy the sauna for a truly Finnish experience. Our knowledge gained over the week was tested on the final evening with a sea-ice themed trivia organized by the instructors.

Being this far north provides a great opportunity to witness some elusive northern lights.  During the entire week, we kept a close eye on the aurora borealis forecast, and we finally had a good chance of seeing them on our last night. Needless to say, we put our field gear back on to head outside and were rewarded by a beautiful display of dancing green and pink lights in the skies. A wonderful way to finish a successful week of learning, meeting fellow researchers and sparking new research questions!

The elusive northern lights appearing on our last night in Hailuoto [Credit: Anika Rohde]

The accommodation treated us to some beautiful sunsets! [Credit: Caroline Aubry-Wake]

To finish on a high not, here is a short video summarizing our incredible week in Hailuto! [Credit: Caroline Aubry-Wake]

Edited by Violaine Coulon


Caroline Aubry-Wake is a mountain hydrology PhD candidate at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. By combining mountain fieldwork in the Canadian Rockies with advanced computer modelling, she aims to further understand how melting glaciers and a changing landscape will impact water resources in the future.

 

 

 

Maren Richter is a PhD student at the Department of Physics of the University of Otago. A physical oceanographer by training, she has turned her focus on the solid state of water to study ice-ocean interactions in Antarctica. Specifically, the effect of platelet ice formed near ice shelf cavities on landfast sea ice thickness evolution and variability on interannual to decadal timescales.

 

Image of the Week — Into Iceberg Alley

Tabular iceberg, Ross Sea, Antarctica [Credit: Marlo Garnsworthy]

Crew in hardhats and red safety gear bustle about, preparing our ship for departure. A whale spouts nearby in the Straits of Magellan, a fluke waving in brief salute, before it submerges again. Our international team of 29 scientists and 2 science communicators, led by co-Chief Scientists Mike Weber and Maureen Raymo, is boarding the JOIDES Resolution, a scientific drilling ship. We’re about to journey on this impressive research vessel into Antarctic waters known as Iceberg Alley for two months on Expedition 382 of the International Ocean Discovery Program.

Not only are these some of the roughest seas on the planet, it is also where most Antarctic icebergs meet their ultimate fate, melting in the warmer waters of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), which races unimpeded around the vast continent. And there, in the Scotia Sea, we will drill deep into the sea floor to learn more about the history of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.


The Drilling Ship

The JOIDES Resolution, our scientific drilling ship [Credit: William Crawford and IODP]

The JOIDES Resolution is a 134-meter-long research vessel topped by a derrick towering 62 meters above the water line. It can drill hundreds of meters into the sea floor to retrieve long cylinders of mud called cores. Analyzing this sediment can tell scientists much about geology and Earth’s history, including the history of Climate Change.

“Sediment cores are like sedimentary tape recorders of Earth’s history,” says Maureen Raymo. “You can see how the climate has changed, how the plants have changed, how the temperatures have changed. Imagine you had a multilayer cake and a big straw, and you just stuck your straw into your cake and pulled it out. And that’s essentially what we do on the ocean floor.”

Our drilling sites in the Scotia Sea. [Figure modified from Weber, et al (2014)]

Our expedition is “going to a place that’s never really been studied before,” adds Maureen Raymo. “In fact, we don’t even know what the age of the sediment at the bottom will be.” Nevertheless, we hope to retrieve a few million years’ worth of sediment, perhaps even more. The sediment cores will provide a nearly continuous history of changes in melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

What can these cores tell us?

As icebergs melt, the dust, dirt, and rocks they carry—known as “iceberg rafted debris”—fall down through the ocean and are deposited as sediment on the seafloor. Analyzing this sediment can tell us when the icebergs that deposited it calved from the ice sheet, and even where they came from. At times when more debris was deposited, we know more icebergs were breaking away from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, which tells us the ice sheet was less stable.

Much shorter cores previously collected at our drilling sites reveal high sedimentation rates, allowing us to observe changes in the ice sheet and the climate on short timescales (from just tens to hundreds of years).

We now know that rapid discharge of icebergs—caused by rapid melting of Antarctic ice shelves and glaciers—occurred in the past, and that episodes of massive iceberg discharge can happen abruptly, within decades. This has huge implications for how the Antarctic Ice Sheet may behave in the future as our world warms.

Where do icebergs come from?

Ok, let’s back up a little—back to where these icebergs were born. Icebergs break off or “calve” from the margins (edges) of ice shelves and glaciers. Ice shelves are floating sheets of ice around the edges of the land. They are important because they have a “buttressing” effect—that is, they act as a wall, holding back the ice behind them. Glaciers are great flowing rivers of ice that grind their way across the land, picking up the rocks and dirt that become iceberg-rafted debris.

Thwaites velocity map animation [Credit: Kevin Pluck, Pixel Movers & Maker]

Most Antarctic icebergs travel anti-clockwise around Antarctica and converge in the Weddell Sea, then drifting northward into the warmer waters of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

Iceberg flux 1976-2017  [Credit: Kevin Pluck & Marlo Garnsworthy, Pixel Movers & Makers]

As our planet warms due to our greenhouse gas emissions, warmer ocean currents are melting Antarctica’s massive glaciers from below, thinning, weakening, and destabilizing them. In fact, the rate of Antarctic ice mass loss has tripled over the last decade alone.

Polar researchers predict that global sea level will rise up to one meter (around 3.2 feet) by the end of this century, and most of this will be due to melting in Antarctica. And if vulnerable glaciers melt, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is more likely to collapse, raising sea level even further.

Blue is old ice, Mc Murdo Sound, Antarctica [Credit: Marlo Garnsworthy]

 

A Hazardous Voyage

We face several hazards on this journey. We are hoping we won’t encounter sea ice, as our vessel is not ice-class, but it’s something we must watch for, especially later in the cruise as winter draws nearer. It is certain that, at times, we’ll experience a sea state not conducive to coring—or to doing much but swallowing sea-sickness medication and retiring to one’s bunk. In heave greater than 4–6 meters, operations must stop for the safety of the crew and equipment.

Of course, our highly experienced ice observer will be ever on the lookout for our greatest hazard—icebergs, of course! We are likely to encounter everything from very small “growlers” to larger “bergy bits” to massive tabular bergs. In fact, it is the smaller icebergs that present the most danger to the ship, as large icebergs are both visible to the eye and are tracked by radar, while smaller ones can be more difficult to detect, especially at night. Nevertheless, we are intentionally sailing into the area of highest iceberg concentration and melt.

“My hope,” says Mike Weber, “is that our expedition will unravel the mysteries of Antarctic ice-sheet dynamics for the past, and this may tell is something about its course in the near future.”

“Bergy bit”, Ross Sea, Antarctica [Credit: Marlo Garnsworthy]

Edited by Sophie Berger


The JOIDES Resolution is part of the International Ocean Discovery Program and is funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Marlo Garnsworthy is an author/illustrator, editor, science communicator, and Education and Outreach Officer for JOIDES Resolution Expedition 382 and previously NBP 17-02. She and Kevin Pluck are co-founders of science communication venture PixelMoversAndMakers.com, creator of the animations in this article.

Image of the Week – The solid Earth: softer than you might think!

Rebounding beach in the Canadian Artic [Credit : Mike Beauregard distributed by Wikimedia Commons]

Global sea level is rising and will continue to do so over the next century, as has once again been shown in the recent IPCC special report on 1.5°C. But did you know that, in some places of our planet, local sea level is actually falling, and this due to rising of the continent itself?! Where is this happening? In places where huge ice sheets used to cover the land surface during the last ice age, such as Scandinavia, Canada, or Siberia. Even though these ice sheets melted several thousands of years ago, the land that once lied under them is still rising in reaction to the release of their previous burden. This is what we call Glacial Isostatic Adjustment or GIA. Where does this adjustment come from? Our Earth is not as solid as you would think…


Our Image of the Week represents a layered beach located in Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic. This specific landform is caused by the glacial rebound of the Arctic coastline resulting from the response of the lithosphere to the melting of the Laurentide Ice sheet, an ice sheet that used to cover the North American continent until less than 10 000 years ago.

Earth during Last Ice Age [Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

What is Glacial Isostatic Adjustment?

Imagine sitting on a very comfy couch, watching a movie. At the end of the movie, the couch has perfectly adapted to the shape of your body. Once you get up, you’re still able to see where you’ve been sitting, as the couch takes a little time to get back to its original form. Well… this is exactly what happens with the Earth’s crust and mantle. To understand this, you need to visualize the internal structure of our planet Earth, which is layered in spherical shells: under our feet lie the rocky tectonic plates, which constitute the Earth’s crust. These crusty plates – whose thickness varies between a few kilometers under oceans to a few tens of kilometers under the continents – are floating on a viscous layer, called the mantle. It is almost 3000 kilometers thick and actually slowly flows like a liquid, at a speed of a few centimeters per year.

Even though the Earth’s crust is a very strong material, the pressure applied by an ice sheet thick of several kilometers is so important that the crust will locally deform under the heavy ice mass, sinking down into the viscous mantle. That’s what happened over large areas of the Northern Hemisphere that were covered by ice masses during the last ice age, and what is still happening in the remaining ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, which have been depressing the Earth’s crust beneath them for thousands of years.

Just like for the couch in the example above, when the weight is removed, the mantle rebounds, carrying with it the overlying crust. Over the 20 000 years since the last glacial maximum, lands now relieved of their previous ice-burden are gradually rebounding. The Earth’s delayed response to the variation of mass on its surface is explained by the viscous character of the Earth’s mantle.

Glacial Isostatic Adjustment [Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Why is it important to take it into account?

Even though the Siberian, Scandinavian and Laurentide ice sheets melted several thousands of years ago (causing a rise in global sea level), these regions that were previously glaciated are still locally emerging to compensate the loss of their overlying weight. The level of the coastline relative to the local sea-level thus increases. One says that the “relative sea level” is falling, and this at a rate that is essentially determined by the rate of the post-glacial rebound (which can exceed 1 cm/year in some areas, as shown in the figure below!). The rates of relative sea level can be influenced even at sites that are quite far away from the centres of the last glaciation, although it is much less significant.

Rate of the post-glacial rebound [Credit: NASA, Wikimedia Commons]

A good understanding of glacial isostatic adjustment is important to distinguish the different components and contributors to a local sea-level evolution: what part is due to the uplift of the land? And what part is due to the rising of global sea-level?
In addition, glacial isostatic adjustment also impacts the behaviour of  modern Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. By influencing the geometry of the underlying bedrock, it will impact the sensitivity of the ice sheet to global warming and thus the glacial isostatic adjustment itself: this is a vicious circle!

The problem is that glacial isostatic adjustment also depends on the local properties of the Earth’s crust and mantle, which are not constant at the Earth’s surface. A lot of work is still needed to understand all of this properly. Luckily, since NASA launched GRACE – a satellite mission that maps variations in the Earth’s gravity field –  in 2002, scientists have observations they can use to constrain their models and improve their understanding of this complicated matter.

Further reading

Edited by Clara Burgard and Sophie Berger

Bridging the crevasse: working toward gender equity in the cryosphere

Figure 1: PhD student Gemma Brett conducts fieldwork examining variability in the distribution of the sub-ice platelet layer in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica [Credit: Florence Isaacs]

Today is International Women’s Day. As three early career glaciologists, we set out to investigate the state of gender diversity in the cryospheric sciences. Is there a better day for this than the day of recognition of the fight for women’s rights across the globe?


“The extreme nature of high alpine and polar environments made the rhetoric of mountaineering and glaciology heroic and masculine, which made both pursuits the embodiment of gentlemanly activity”
— Jaclyn R. Rushing
Women and Glaciers: Changing Dynamics in Sport, Science, and Climate Change

Descended from the earliest mountaineers and explorers, glaciology has been, like many sciences, long dominated by men. As today is International Women’s Day, we set out to understand gender diversity in the cryospheric sciences. With this blog post, we aim to provide two resources: 1) the most up-to-date statistics about gender in the cryospheric sciences and 2) a list of things that you can do to improve diversity in our beloved discipline.

As Lora Koenig and her co-writers succinctly stated:

If we value diversity and believe our discipline will be at its best when every student has equal opportunity, then we must do more than talk; we must act. Awareness and data collection are part of ensuring a diverse field now and in the future.”

Note: Our use of ‘women’ is intended to encompass all those who are female-identifying. The only statistics and research on this topic that were available at the time of writing lean heavily on the classification of individuals as ‘male’ or ‘female’. We wish to highlight that these sources exclude those of us with a gender identity that does not fit within this binary, and emphasise that we are speaking within these limitations in this article. Also, while this article focuses on research about women within academia, the experiences of women involved in knowledge-gathering outside this formal structure are varied and important.

The gender gap in science

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, fewer than 30% of the world’s researchers are women, and women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) “publish less, are paid less for their research and do not progress as far as men in their careers”.

Figure 2 shows data from our blog’s host, the European Geosciences Union (EGU) – all sections considered – for the past two years. Women currently account for one-third of all EGU members. On the other side of the Atlantic, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has a slightly lower percentage of women — about 30% of all members in 2018.

Figure 2. Gender breakdown in EGU membership data – all sections considered – for 2018. The numbers presented are valid as of 08/03/2018. These numbers are estimates as they account only for active members who have filled out their membership profile. Members are not directly asked what gender they are, but they have been asked to select their salute (Mr vs Ms/Mrs), and self-designate as early-career. Emeritus members are members older than 60 or retired. Width is not to scale [Credit: Barbara Ferreira, EGU Media and Communications Manager].

How does the cryosphere compare?

We reviewed data from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Unfortunately, the EGU Cryosphere section has not yet published a breakdown of gender diversity (it’s on its way!).

Figure 3. Gender breakdown in AGU Cryosphere Sciences and International Glaciological Society membership data for all members in 2018 and by career stage in 2015. Circle size is not to scale [Credit: Lara Koenig for AGU data and Louise Buckingham, Doug MacAyeal, and Francisco Navarro for IGS data].

Similar to the overall gender breakdown, women make up 32% of all the AGU Cryosphere members in 2018 (Fig. 3). The IGS had a lower percentage: about 20% of its 670 members could be identified as women by name, although this was not self-reported and some members’ gender could not be discerned.

One significant trend that has been noted in previous posts on diversity in the cryosphere is that the gender imbalance is inversely proportional to career stage — more women are joining as students. A similar trend was recognized in 2015 AGU Cryosphere and IGS membership data (Figure 3) as well as in recent Australian data showing that in STEMM (STEM + Medicine), women make up half of postgraduate students!

However this trend cannot yet be seen in senior academic positions. There are two causes. One, a supply problem: women were historically excluded from the sciences (see below). Two, a filtering problem: the gender-filtered leaky pipeline” phenomenon describes how science progressively loses women as their scientific career evolves.

Many factors are responsible for women leaving the sciences. Awards, first authorships, and representation on boards and committees can play a big factor in whether scientists receive job offers or tenure. Do women receive nominations at a level at least proportional to representation? Data is limited on this front, but we have found that:

Like the UNESCO effort to follow and explore the careers of women in science, we urge AGU, EGU, IGS, and other Arctic and Antarctic institutions and communities to track the retention and acknowledgement of early-career women. We need to retain women, not just recruit them.

Barriers to access or the origins of the gender gap

A 2013 study published in Nature identified that “Despite improvements, female scientists continue to face discrimination, unequal pay, and funding disparities”. This study has been reproduced in all shades and flavors. Here is a non-exhaustive list of factors that could contribute to the underrepresentation of women in the cryospheric sciences (most of the following points apply to any scientific field of study):

  • Participating in conferences and presenting research is a mean of spreading scientific results, finding employment opportunities and funds, and obtaining awards and recognition. However, abstracts to conferences from male authors are more likely to be rated higher. It has also been shown that women were invited and assigned oral presentations less often than men for the AGU Fall Meetings, and also elect for poster presentations only more than men. White men are also more likely to receive a response from a potential PI despite identical resumes to a female applicant.
  • Fieldwork is associated with a lack of safety and inclusivity: women bear the brunt of harassment in science — half of all women in science have been sexually harassed, and in a recent study on 95 Australian women who conducted fieldwork in Antarctica, 63% — 60 women — reported being harassed or sexually harassed in the field. Of those, 47 felt unable to take any action. Women are more likely to be on the receiving end of microaggressions, which have long-lasting impact.  
  • Historical barriers to participation in polar field work: there are few well-known examples of female scientists in history, a result of women being unacknowledged for their scientific contributions (e.g. Julia Weertman, until recently) or barred from participating in research. For example, the British Antarctic Survey barred women until 1987, when they allowed Liz Morris to join an expedition. Glaciology has long been – and still remains, despite recent improvements – a male-dominated field.
  • Women are often the primary caregivers to children, family with mental illness, and aging parents or partners, on top of their work as researchers. Goulden et al. (2011) have shown that family formation like marriage and childbirth accounts for the largest leaks in the “pipeline” in the sciences. They also underline the limited benefits (such as paid maternity and parental leave) that are offered to scientists. As a consequence, in the US, nearly half of female scientists leave full-time science after their first child.
  • The outdoor industry continues to be male dominated, e.g. in guiding careers, meaning that women are more likely to experience barriers to access. Outdoor gear and tools, including gear provided by the U.S. Antarctic Program, are exclusively or heavily fit for men, making fieldwork more difficult and often more dangerous for women. New Zealand is one of the only countries that has women-specific polar clothing.

What can we do?

So what’s the state of gender in the cryosphere? We are making progress. Indeed, the gender balance in the cryosphere is improving:

  • Hulbe et al. [2010] documented the sex of first and second authors in International Glaciological Society journals from 1948 to 2010. Female authors comprised about 5% of authors from the 1950s through the 1980s, 13% in the 1990s, 16% in the 2000s, and roughly 20% by the end of the study.
  • An analysis of IGS memberships numbers indicates that the proportion of female members has increased over time.
  • The percentage of women in the American Geophysical Union Cryosphere section rose from around 26% in 2013 to about 32% in 2018.

As early career scientists, this is heartening — the efforts to improve gender diversity are working. We, as early-career women, stand not just on the shoulders of the pioneering women that opened the door, but of a whole community reckoning with its biases. The thing we’re most often asked is What can I (as a male PI, as an institutional leader, as a PhD student organizing seminars) do?”. The figures below gather a few ideas about where to start. Please comment with your own! Of course, these also apply to the broader spectrum of physical sciences and academia.

Fixing gender imbalance in the cryosphere [Credit: Florence Isaacs, Elizabeth Case and Violaine Coulon]

Conclusion

With this post, we hope to open discussions about gender diversity in the cryospheric sciences, how it’s changing (for the better), and what you can do to help increase diversity. Others have written recently and extensively about this, including Christina Hulbe, Lora Koenig, and others. We have put together a list of some of these resources below. We will continue to update this, so please let us know if there is something that needs to be added.

We also want to acknowledge the severe lack of racial and ethnic diversity, and a lack of research on the experiences of queer and disabled people in the geosciences. Where we have made strides for some women, we have left behind many others…

Further resources

Edited by Clara Burgard


Violaine Coulon is a PhD student of the glaciology unit, at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Brussels, Belgium. She is using a numerical ice sheet model to investigate the dynamics and stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet for the past 1.5 million years. She also investigates the sensitivity of the Antarctic Ice Sheet to the incorporation of lateral variability in the viscoelastic Earth structure across Antarctica.

 

 

Florence Isaacs is a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington’s Antarctic Research Centre, New Zealand. Her current research examines the relationship between Southern Hemisphere climate variability, sea ice, and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. She is passionate about increasing diversity in science, and tweets at @flisaacs.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Case is a PhD student at Columbia University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory investigating ice deformation through radar and modelling. She rode her bike across the country in 2015 as a co-founder of Cycle for Science, and continues to advocate for adventure-based science education. You can find her @elizabeth_case.

 

The hidden part of the cryosphere – Ice in caves

The hidden part of the cryosphere – Ice in caves

The cryosphere can be found in various places in many forms and shapes… in the atmosphere, on land and sea. A lesser known part of the cryosphere is hidden deep in the dark, in the cold-karstic areas of the planet: Ice caves! The ongoing climate change affecting ice all over the world is now rapidly melting these hidden ice masses as well. We therefore need to hurry up and try to collect as much information as we can before all will melt away…


The big melting

The ice masses around the globe, in ice sheets, sea ice, and mountain glaciers, have been melting away in past decades (see this previous post). The reduction of the cryosphere, both in terms of area and mass, has particularly been visible in the European Alps over the last 30 years. On the one hand, large and small Alpine glaciers decline, fragment and even disappear, and this trend has accelerated since the mid 1980s. Mountain glaciers are therefore considered to be sensitive indicators for climate variability. On the other hand, the warming climate is also acting on permafrost degradation, mostly affecting the stability of rock-slopes and cliffs.

What makes the international scientific community worry at the moment is how fast this abrupt glacial reduction is occurring globally. However, not all the natural environments respond in the same way to sudden changes in the climate system! Fortunately for us scientists, there are physical environments and ecological niches more resilient to external perturbations. This aspect has sometimes allowed the preservation of environments and information in the Earth’s climatic history that would have been otherwise destroyed.

Caves are resilient

Among the most resilient natural environments there are caves, “protected” by the rocky mass within which they were formed. In the mountains, high-altitude karst cavities can contain huge deposits of ice representing a lesser known part of the cryosphere. Speleologists face such ice in caves both as a joy and a damnation: fascinating by their beautiful shapes and morphologies, they also see it as an unwieldy presence that prevents explorations of still unknown voids in the alpine karstic systems.

Fig. 2: An ice deposit in a cave of the southeastern Alps [Credit: Renato R. Colucci].

 

But ice in caves is not just something beautiful (but isn’t it? Look at Fig. 2!). It rather represents a precious natural archive, sometimes with high temporal resolution, able to tell the climate history of large part of the Holocene (the last 11700 years of the Earth’s history). The permanent ice deposits, i.e. the ice staying longer than just a winter season, often defined in a colorful way as “fossil ice” by speleologists, is what counts the most. As it typically gets older than 2 years, which is one threshold for the general definition of permafrost, this phenomenon is part of the mountain permafrost… right or wrong, ice in caves is ground ice!

Fig. 3: Huge entrance of a cave opening in the Dachstein limestones of the Canin-Kanin massif, southeastern Alps [Credit: Renato R. Colucci].

 

Generally in the Alps such ice deposits lie in caves having their opening at altitudes above 1,000 m (Fig. 3), but locally even lower. The formation of these unique environments depends on a combination of geomorphological and climatic characteristics, which allow for accumulation and preservation of ice also in places where this would be very unlikely.

Now, although the caves are resilient environments, ice melting due to climate change is rapidly increasing there as well. This is why it is important to save as much information as possible from the remaining ice, before it is definitely lost!

The C3 project – Cave’s Cryosphere and Climate

The C3-Cave’s Cryosphere and Climate project is under the scientific guidance of the National Research Council (CNR) of Italy, and precisely the climate and paleoclimate research group of ISMAR Trieste. It aims to monitor and study ice deposits in caves. Such ice deposits store several information related to the paleoclimate, the biology, the chemistry and ecology of these environments.

Fig. 4: Drilling ice cores with the aim to extract the CCC layer from this ice body in a cave of the southeastern Alps [Credit: Arianna Peron].

The project started in 2016, following the discovery of a coarse cryogenic calcite deposit (CCCcoarse) in an ice layer (in-situ) in a cave of the Canin-Kanin massif, in the Julian Alps, located between Italy and Slovenia. This finding, representing the first evidence of CCC in the southern Alps, provides an important opportunity to understand the processes associated to the formation of these particular calcite crystals (Fig. 4). Previously, the CCC (Fig. 5) was only found on the floor in caves where ice had already melted away. What makes it interesting is the fact that it is possible to date these crystals using the isotopic ratio of some trace elements in radioactive materials, typically Uran and Thorium.

Fig. 5: Millimetric crystals of coarse cryogenic calcite found in-situ in the southern Alps [Credit: Renato R. Colucci].

The strongest financial and logistic support to the project is given by the Alpine Society of the Julian Alps through its speleological group, the E. Boegan Cave Commission. In addition to the CNR and other Italian institutions such as the University of Trieste, University of Bologna, Insubria University in Varese, Milano Bicocca University and the Natural Park of the Julian Prealps, the project involves research institutes and universities from Germany (Institute of Physics of Heidelberg University), Switzerland (Paul Scherrer Institut; Swiss Institute for Speleology and Karst Studies), Austria (Innsbruck University; Palynology and Archaeobotany Research Group), and Slovenia (Geological survey of Slovenia).

Many activities and several results already unveiled few of the secrets hidden in such environments: the realization of the first thermo-fluido-dynamic model in an ice cave, the development of innovative techniques for studying the mass balance of the ice, the study of the thermal characteristics of the rock and therefore of the permafrost and the active layer, the development of innovative and multidisciplinary methods of ice dating.

But there is little time to do all, and we must exploit it to the fullest!

Further reading

Edited by Clara Burgard


Renato R. Colucci works in the climate and paleoclimate research group of ISMAR-CNR, Department of Earth System Sciences and Environmental Technology. He is also adjunct Professor of glaciology at the University of Trieste (Italy). During his PhD he honed his skills in glacial and periglacial geomorphology at UNIS (University Center in Svalbard). His research centers around the interactions between cryosphere (glaciers, permafrost, ice caves) and the climate, spanning from the end of the Last Glacial Maximum to the present days.

Image of the Week – When “Ice, Ice Baby” puts rocks “Under Pressure”

Image 1: Composite image of the Aiguille Verte, the heavily-fractured headwall of the Glacier d’Argentière near Chamonix, France [Credit: D. Dennis].

Bowie and Queen said it first, and Vanilla Ice brought it back. But now, I’ve set out to quantify it: Pressure. Rocks in glacial landscapes can experience many different kinds of pressure (forces), from sources like regional tectonics or even the weight of the glacier itself. Our hypothesis is that smaller-scale pressures, caused by the formation of ice in small bedrock cracks (frost-weathering), have a large effect on the sculpting of landscapes in cold regions. This post will share how we evaluate these processes and their dependence on temperature, as well as discussing the broader effects for glacier and glacial landscape evolution.


Walking through the valley in the shadow of glaciers

Growing up just outside Glacier National Park, USA, at nearly the exact edge of the former Laurentide Ice Sheet, I became familiar with the romantic lore of how we understand glacial landscapes (Images 2, 3). Observing these glacial landscapes later throughout my formal Earth science education, I came to understand mountains as passive resistors to the relentless efficiency of glacier advance, erosion, and retreat—offering evidence of past glaciations but nonetheless devoid of agency in the rise and fall of icy stadials.

My current PhD research, however, investigates a slightly-modified premise: that glaciers and their landscapes respond in concert with climate, and that dividing the dynamics governing the ice and the rock may not be as straightforward as once thought. My work is a sub-project of the Climate Sensitivity of Glacial Landscape Dynamics (COLD) project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and lead by Dirk Scherler at the Deutches GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ) in Potsdam, Germany.

Image 2: The author on holiday in Glacier National Park, Montana, circa 2001, demonstrating an early aptitude for glacial geomorphology and cosmogenic nuclide geochemistry. His affinity for popular German footwear at a young age foreshadowed his eventual move to Germany to study glaciology and geomorphology [Credit: D. Dennis].

Image 3: This image of Chamonix Valley and the M. Blanc massif conceptually outlines how average annual temperature may change with elevation in steep hillslopes. The highest peaks in the massif tower up to nearly 4000 m over Chamonix Valley, which sits at appx.1000m. This corresponds to a nearly ~20 °C difference in annual average temperature. [Image adapted from Google Earth].

Temperature as a control in glacial landscapes

Glaciers exist in locations with temperatures that are, for some portion of the year, below freezing, as this is a condition required for snow to persist through the melt season and to form ice. Temperature is therefore an important primary control on the stability of glaciers. These cold temperatures, however, impact mountain environments beyond just the formation/decline of glaciers, and several decades of recent research have shown that temperature is an important controlling factor on the type and magnitude of erosion (the act of dislodging and transporting rock) in cold landscapes.

Mountain glacier valleys are commonly characterized by steep head- and sidewalls which frame the glacier within (like in our Image of the Week). At our field sites in the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps, these rockwalls can tower up to 1500 m above the surface of the glaciers, corresponding to a temperature gradient of ~10 degrees (Image 3). Therefore, the rocks at different elevations are exposed to different temperature conditions, which could lead to differences in the rate of erosion.

Image 4: Permafrost degradation and frost-weathering in the steep hillslopes of the M. Blanc massif commonly lead to the deposition of debris on the glaciers at the base of the mountains. Shown here is Glacier d’Argentière (France) with patches of surface debris [Credit: D. Dennis].

Erosion in steep rockwall faces

Frost-weathering processes occur only at temperatures at or below zero, therefore requiring the same cold temperature conditions that form glaciers. At these temperatures, liquid water present in small cracks in the bedrock freezes. The pressure exerted on the rock by the ice as it freezes causes the rock to fracture, leading to large cracks in the bedrock (Image 5). Erosion occurs when the ice in the crack becomes large enough and its corresponding fracture wide enough that the rock can no longer remain attached and it falls from the rockwall surface.

Erosion can also occur when the ice in the crack melts and no longer “cements” the surface together. Because temperatures in glacial landscapes are commonly quite cold, much of the bedrock is considered permafrost (permanently-frozen ground), and remains frozen throughout the year. In the Alps, however, warmer temperatures over the past decades have caused the permafrost to thaw, melting the lenses of ice and causing larger and more frequent rockfalls.

Temperature conditions are therefore important for both the rate at which cracks form in rocks (and erode from the surface) in addition to permafrost stability and the size/frequency of rockfalls. As temperatures change in mountain regions due to global warming, this could lead to considerable changes in debris production.

Image 5: A cropped version of our Image of the Week, showing the base of the Aiguille Verte, headwall of Glacier d’Argentière. Large fractures in the bedrock are clearly visible. These may have grown from much smaller cracks that formed due to frost-weathering.

The hillslope/glacier surface connection

After material erodes from the surface of the headwall, it is often deposited onto the surface of the glacier (Image 3). As mentioned above, the deposition of material can occur both at a constant rate or sporadically (as in the case of permafrost-thaw rockfalls), depending on the controlling process. As such, determining the actual representative rate at which these headwalls erode is challenging.

Though this work can be complicated, we believe it to be important, as debris deposited on the surface of glaciers can insulate the ice from the effects of temperature (Image 4, Video 1). Though the global distribution of debris-covered glaciers is much smaller than debris-free glaciers, debris-covered glaciers make up a non-trivial fraction of the glaciers in populated mountain regions where they may be important fresh water sources, contribute to glacial hazards, or allow for the generation of hydropower. Understanding the supply of debris to these glaciers (via erosion), and how it may change, is therefore an important component of forecasting their evolution under warming climates.

Video 1: This drone footage from the Arolla Glacier, Switzerland, shows the steep relief which can develop as a result of differential melting. Debris thicker than 2-4 cm insulate ice, leading to topographic relief on the glacier surface as exposed ice melts and covered ice is protected. [Credit: D. Gök, GFZ]

Re-evaluating the dynamic glacial landscape

Though studies of frost-cracking and debris-covered glaciers individually are not necessarily brand new inventions, our methods for combining the two are rather novel. In doing so, we are linking the evolution of glacier with the evolution of the landscape itself, and investigating an interesting feedback loop induced by changes in climate. Should erosion rates increase with warmer temperatures, and the mountains therefore supply more debris to glacier surfaces, this could extend the “lifetime” of the glacier by insulating it; likewise, if erosion rates decrease, less debris supplied to already-covered glaciers could lead to less insulation and (comparatively) higher melt rates. This interplay demonstrates the complexity of Earth system processes, and the need to take these complexities into account when considering the effects of climate changes.

To summarize

Pressure, pushing down on rock,
Pushing laterally against rock, can cause them to fall.
Under (thick) debris, glacier melt will slow,
Despite higher temperatures,
And global warming.

Will it ever stop? I don’t know.
Turn up the temperatures, then no more (ice and) snow.
At the end of the day, frost-weathering needs ice,
When water can’t freeze, ice-cracking’s no dice.

Edited by David Docquier


Donovan Dennis is a PhD student at the Deutches GeoForschungsZentrum in Potsdam, Germany. He is interested in many aspects of glaciology and glacial geomorphology, and currently investigates the geomorphic feedbacks on glacial landscape erosion. He previously worked on post-deposition alteration of stable water isotope signals in snow and ice. He tweets as @donovan__dennis.

Contact Email: dennis@gfz-potsdam.de

 

Image of the Week – Seven weeks in Antarctica [and how to study its surface mass balance]

Figure 1 – Drone picture of our field camp in the Princess Ragnhild coastal region, East Antarctica. [Credit: Nander Wever]

After only two months of PhD at the Laboratoire de Glaciologie of the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium), I had the chance to participate in an ice core drilling campaign in the Princess Ragnhild coastal region, East Antarctica, during seven weeks in December 2018 – January 2019 for the Mass2Ant project. Our goal was to collect ice cores to better evaluate the evolution of the surface mass balance in the Antarctic Ice sheet. Despite the sometimes-uncomfortable weather conditions, the ins and outs of the fieldwork and the absence of friends and family, these seven weeks in Antarctica were a wonderful experience…


Mass2Ant

Mass2Ant is the acronym of the project: “East Antarctic surface mass balance in the Anthropocene: observations and multiscale modelling”. This project aims to better understand the processes controlling the surface mass balance in East Antarctica, its variability in the recent past and, ultimately, improve the projections of mass balance changes of the East Antarctic ice sheet.

What exactly is the surface mass balance?

The mass balance of an ice sheet (see Fig. 2) is the net balance between the mass gained by snow accumulation and the loss of mass by melting (either at the surface or under the floating ice shelves) and calving (breaking off of icebergs at the ice shelves fronts).

The surface mass balance on the other hand only considers the surface of the ice sheet. It is thus, for a given location, the difference between:

  • incoming mass: snowfall, and
  • outgoing mass, due to melting processes (fusion and sublimation), meltwater runoff and transport or erosion by wind at the ice sheet interface.

Figure 2 – Representation of the mass balance of an ice sheet [Credit: Figure adapted from NASA, Wikimedia Commons].

Overall, the ice sheet mass balance – the principal indicator of the “health state” of an ice sheet – is the balance between the surface mass balance, iceberg calving and basal melt under the ice shelves. A good evaluation of these three factors is thus essential to better quantify the evolution of the Antarctic mass balance under anthropogenic warming and therefore its contribution to future sea level rise.

However, the surface mass balance is characterized by strong temporal and spatial variations (see Figure 3) and is poorly constrained. In order to improve future projections for Antarctica, it is essential to better assess the variability of the Antarctic surface mass balance by directly collecting data in the field. Within this framework, the goal of the Mass2Ant project is to study the surface mass balance in the Princess Ragnhild coastal region (marked in the Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Surface mass balance (1989-2009) from RACMO2 (a regional climate model) of Antarctica (left) and Greenland (right) in kg/m².yr. Contour levels (dashed) are shown every 500 m. Black dot is the approximative position of the drilling site on the Tison Ice Rise. [Credit: adapted from Figure 1 of van den Broeke et al. (2011)].

Collecting the data [or how can we use ice cores to infer surface mass balance?]

Surface mass balance can be determined by analyzing ice core records. As a part of our expedition, ice cores were collected on the summit of the so-called “Tison Ice Rise” (a non-official name) – 70°S 21°E, near the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station. We drilled to a depth of 260.1 m, which we expect to date back to the 15th century.
The drilling system, named the Eclipse drill, contains a motor on top of a drill barrel – which is composed of an inner barrel that cuts the ice core with 3 knives and collects it and an outer barrel (a tube) that collects the chips created. Due to the overlaying ice, pressure increases very quickly with depth. Deep ice cores are thus subject to much higher pressure than the atmospheric pressure. In order to reduce these strong pressure differences as the ice core is brought to the surface, drilling fluid was poured in the boreholes, a technique called “wet-drilling”. This was the first time the wet-drilling technique was used by our team, and it significantly improved the quality of our ice cores compared to the traditional method used during the previous campaigns!

Figure 4 – A part of our team in the drilling tent. An ice core can be observed in the inner barrel of the drilling system. A wooden box is placed on top of the trench, under the drill barrel to collect the chips contained in the outer barrel. [Credit: Hugues Goosse]

The 329 collected ice cores will be analyzed in our lab in Brussels. More specifically, we will focus on

  • the water stable isotopes: the seasonal cycle of stable isotopes of water in ice will be used for relative dating of the ice core;
  • the major ions (Na+, nssSO4, Na+/SO42-, NO3…) present in the ice: the reconstruction of the seasonal cycle of these ions allows us to refine the isotopic dating and therefore infer the annual snow/firn/ice thickness.
  • the conductivity of the ice, which also shows a clear seasonal signal used for dating. Moreover, the conductivity signal is also reacting to localized extra inputs – for example from past volcanic eruptions – therefore providing an absolute dating, which reduces our dating method uncertainties.

The seasonality of these signals will allow us to infer the yearly ice thicknesses (see this post). By taking into account the deformation of the ice, we will then be able to reconstruct the evolution of the surface mass balance in the Princess Ragnhild Coast region since the 15th century.

Life in the field

What was a typical day like for us? In fact, it strongly depended on the team to which you belonged as we were divided into two groups:

  • The “day group” was working on measurements such as snow density and radar analyses and worked roughly between 8 AM and 8 PM.
  • The second group – the drilling team, including me – worked during nights (between 9 PM and 9 AM) because of the too high temperatures during day, which would lead to ice core melt.

The drilling team adapted quite easily to this timing as the sun was shining 24 hours a day. In order to spend a common moment, a joint meal was organized every day at 8.30 AM, with some of us having their dinner while others were having breakfast.
The everyday life mainly occurred in two equipped containers. The first container was our living space, which we used as kitchen, dining room and working space. The second container consisted of a cloakroom, the toilets and the bathroom (with a real shower, a luxury in the field!). Each of us had a tent to sleep, with adapted sleeping bag, making it quite comfortable. As we stayed 5 weeks at the drilling site, we spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve on the field. It was a good occasion to eat fondue while sharing some fun stories and jokes (Fig. 5).

Figure 5 – Christmas time spent together, giving presents and eating fondue. [Credit: Nander Wever]

Why should you too go to Antarctica?

I’ll keep many memories of the time we all spent together, but also of the amazing landscapes and the calm and peacefulness of this white immensity… Despite the sometimes-uncomfortable weather conditions (a full week of whiteout days, lucky us!), this unique experience was wonderful! I’ve learned so much, from a scientific but also personal point of view. It was also a chance to participate in the collection of the samples that I will study during the next four years of my PhD. Before I left for Antarctica, someone told me that “When you went to Antarctica once, you usually want to go again”. Well, that’s definitely true for me!

Many thanks to belspo for funding this project, to the International Polar Foundation and Princess Elisabeth Antarctica staffs for the work both in Cape Town and in the station, and last but not least, thanks to the Mass2Ant team in the field that made this experience an amazing adventure.

Further reading

Edited by Violaine Coulon


Sarah Wauthy is a PhD student at Laboratoire de Glaciologie, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. Her PhD is part of the Mass2Ant project and aims at determining paleo-accumulation in the region of the Princess Ragnhild Coast (Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica) as well as the paleo-extension of sea ice before and across the Anthropocene transition (ca. last 3 centuries), by performing high-resolution multiparametric analyses on ice cores collected during field campaigns.