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Image of the Week: Hochjochferner

Image of the Week: Hochjochferner

The margin of the glacier “Hochjochferner” on the border between Austria and Italy. This glacier has been monitored with an Automatic Weather Station for several years by the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research in Utrecth, NL.It is also the destination of the field trip that takes place during the annual Karthaus summer school in ice and climate. Here, students are exploring the margin of the glacier, where the sound of water rushing under the ice could clearly be heard.

Image of the Week: GISP II Borehole

Image of the Week: GISP II Borehole

Climate records from ice cores have helped scientists understand the past changes in climate.The GISP II (Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two) ice core was more than 3km long and was drilled during a five year period in the 1990s. After the drilling ended the casing of the borehole was extended above the surface, so that the borehole can still be accessed for remeasurements of, for example, temperature and changes in shape.

Camping on the Svalbard coast

Camping on the Svalbard coast

In early April 2015, a small team of 2 Belgian and 2 French researchers went to Svalbard. The goal? Testing new methods to measure sea-ice thickness and ice algal biomass, but also measuring greenhouse gases in the sea ice in relation with the ‘STeP’ (Storfjorden Polynya multidisciplinary study) campaign. With funding from the French Polar Institute (IPEV) and IPSL and logistical arrangements by the Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat (LOCEAN, Paris), we had the opportunity to conduct a short field campaign, long enough to perform instrumental tests and ice coring.

The expedition was arranged with Stefano Poli – a tourist guide in Svalbard. People and equipment were driven on snow-mobiles to Agardhbukta, 100 km South East of Longyearbyen. The conditions for this expedition were quite rudimentary; a tent, a burner and sleeping bags. There are no human settlements in this remote location, so Stefano chose a camping spot, as safe as possible with respect to polar bears, right in front of the fjord, our working place…

Quite exciting, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at what we got up to:

Outside the tent (credit: A. Lourenço).

Setting up the Camp

How do you set up a camp in the Arctic? First, you look for a hidden place, ideal for bear watching (in our case we chose a place with a small hill on our back and open on a wide and flat area). Then the hard work starts:

  1. Build the body and the membrane of the tent.
  2. Dig a hole in the snow right under the entrance to allow carbonic gases to escape.
  3. Set up the oil burner circuit: the oil tank positioned outside the tent is sent to the burner through a pipe covered by snow to avoid spilling accidents, and another pipe made from superposition of aluminum cylindrical cans links the burner to the air above the tent. A hole in the membrane of the tent is designed for that purpose.
  4. Circle the tent with a bear alarm. This was totally handmade and consisted of a gun firecrackers guided by a thread, not really sufficient to stop a polar bear!

The daily life

Eating, sleeping, working, everything was adapted to Arctic conditions. The meals – morning, lunch and dinner – were just dry food in hermetic bags that you fill in with boiling water. Better choose the orange bags, chili con carne is the best. To sleep, reindeer skins were placed directly on the ground (i.e. snow) as mattresses, and sleeping bags were in natural bird feathers. The ideal position is when you find the perfect distance between your feet and the burner.

Inside the tent (credit: M. Kotovitch)

Inside the tent (credit: M. Kotovitch)

As the bear alarm might not be totally reliable, our guide offered us (well, without the possibility to decline or give up) a memorable nocturnal experiment, a series of 2-h bear-watching shifts, with a survival kit consisting of a flare gun, 2 tea thermos and 1 teddy polar bear for superstition.

In the Field

The objectives of this short campaign were (i) to sample early spring sea ice, snow and seawater in the Storfjorden region; (ii) to calibrate non-destructive methods for ice thickness and biomass retrievals in sea ice; and (iii) to measure greenhouse gases in sea ice in relation with the ‘STeP’ campaign. This cruise is scheduled for next summer in Storfjorden, led by IPSL-Paris and involves paleo-oceanographers, physical and chemical oceanographers as well as biogeochemists from several countries.

Why is it so important to develop a non-destructive method while working on sea ice? Because the general and only way known currently to sample sea ice in its entire thickness consists of coring, which destructs the site and can alter sea ice biogeochemical conditions.

With these goals in mind, the initial plan was to operate 2 or 3 stations per day on coastal landfast ice in Storfjorden. Agardhbukta was chosen for its situation (not too far from Longyearbyen) and as one of the locations in Storfjorden where we had good expectations to find practicable sea ice in this season, which was required to carry out our work. Our guide Stefano mentioned he saw a satellite image with new sea ice on March 23 in that location. And indeed, the sampled ice was probably not older than 2-3 weeks (Figure 4). Regarding the sampling planning, our expectations where a little bit overestimated. The weather conditions were so snowy and windy that we hardly had the time to sample one full station a day… This is how Polar Regions surprise us.

 

Bear watching (credit: A. Lourenço)

Edited by Sophie Berger and Nanna Karlsson


Marie Kotovitch is a PhD student at the Chemical Oceanography Unit, University of Liège, supervised by Bruno Delille. She is working with sea ice and gas transport (mostly greenhouse gases like CO2 and N2O). She has a collaboration with the Laboratory of Glaciology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and was involved in this campaign in Svalbard to analyze the biological aspect of this study.

Image of the Week: Greenland Ice Streams

Image of the Week: Greenland Ice Streams

This image is from the west coast of Greenland and it shows several glaciers flowing towards the sea (upper part of the image), transporting ice into the ocean. The colours show the velocity of the ice. As the ice gets nearer to the coast it speeds up reaching speeds over 15m/day.

The velocities were calculated using two Sentinel-1A radar scans from 3 and 15 January 2015. You can download a high resolution version of the image on the ESA website.

This is the first installment of our new “Image of the Week” feature. If you have an image or a photograph that you would like to see on the Cryosphere blog, please get in touch!

Cruising for mud: Sediments from the ocean floor as a climate indicator

Cruising for mud: Sediments from the ocean floor as a climate indicator

Going on a cruise for a month sounds tempting for most people and that is exactly how I spent one month of my summer. Instead of sunshine and 25 degrees, the temperature was closer to the freezing point on the thermometer and normal summer weather was replaced by milder weather conditions. The destination of the cruise was the western Nordic Sea and the east Greenland Margin. The ice2ice cruise was not a regular cruise, but a scientific cruise, starting in Reykjavik then heading towards the east coast of Greenland and ending in Tromsø, Northern Norway. Without the option to go ashore and far away from civilization, I spent four weeks aboard the Norwegian RV G.O. Sars. When I came home from the middle of the ocean, I realized that I had been part of a unique project.

The ice2ice cruise logo, where the red dots indicate the more than 30 sites of coring marine sediments under the ice2ice cruise. Photo credit: Amandine Tisserand

The ice2ice cruise logo, where the red dots indicate the more than 30 sites of coring marine sediments under the ice2ice cruise. Photo credit: Amandine Tisserand

Why are climate scientists going on a cruise?

The purpose of the cruise was to collect marine sediment cores in the western Nordic Seas and along the east Greenland Margin. The retrieved sediments can be used to document abrupt changes in sea ice cover and ocean circulation along the East Greenland continental margin, during glacial times and for the more recent past. For this purpose three different sediment coring systems were used. The multicore, which samples sediments, including the sediment/water interface at the sea floor, the gravity core that is used to get information about the deeper marine sediments (up to 5 meter), and the calypso core that could retrieve up to 20 m long sediment cores, containing muddy sediments from the ocean floor to the ship’s deck.

One of the main questions of the ice2ice project is why there are abrupt climate changes. The sediment cores should be ideal for correlation to the RECAP (http://recap.nbi.ku.dk/) ice core from Renland Ice Cap in Eastern Greenland, drilled earlier this year. Together it is a unique material, which hopefully can bring information of the sea ice cover and its extent back in time.

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Sediments: a split calypso core showing a clear pattern of a tephra layer from a volcanic eruption (left), and the multicore on the way up with four successful sediment cores (right). Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft and Ida Synnøve Olsen.

When everything is new – also the type of cruise

This was my first cruise ever, and before I boarded the ship in Reykjavik in mid-July, my knowledge of marine sediments and the ocean was very limited. Most of the people on board the ship were geologists who knew a lot about sediments from the ocean and had been on cruises before. Now a month later, my knowledge about sediments and the life aboard a research ship has become much larger. I think I had the steepest possible learning curve about sediments, because there were no stupid questions to ask, and everyone was very nice about answering questions, even if it was outside their area. Usually I work with ice cores and modelling of glacier ice and for me everything was new. This meant that I could contribute with knowledge about the RECAP ice core instead. Now I can take part in a conversation about sediments together with other geologist.

Normally when going on a cruise, there are only a few scientists on board on the ship. This means that there is only time to core the sediments and cut them into sections, while all the scientific work takes places later, when the sediments are in the lab. On this cruise, as something new, we were several scientists, so when the sediments were on deck, we immediately did a splendid job of handling the cores, describing and analysing the material. Thus, the detailed lab analyses can start right away after the material gets back to Bergen.

Shipboard analyses indicated that the material we have brought back to the laboratories in Bergen covers a time span from the present and probably a few hundred thousand years back in time. Not all the data have been analysed yet but we are looking forward to start and we are eager to see the results.

 Midnight sun over the Greenland Sea. Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim.

Midnight sun over the Greenland Sea. Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim.

The science

During the one month long cruise, we had collected numerous samples of shells from the ocean floor from 32 stations west of Iceland. We did CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) measurements, to get information about how the temperature, salinity, density and oxygen content of the water vary in the ocean, and we collected water samples at different depths to analyse oxygen and carbon isotopes. We also collected sediments from 31 stations and every core has passed the DNA sampling, color and MS measurements stations. The cores were then cut into sections, split down through the middle, logged and described so that we could  get an initial feel for the quality and utility of the samples we retrieved, before they are brought to shore for much more detailed analysis.

Ashley, Margit and Ida cut a gravity core into sections (left), while Alby brings a multicore from the deck down to the lab (right). Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim and Kerstin Perner.

Ashley, Margit and Ida cut a gravity core into sections (left), while Alby brings a multicore from the deck down to the lab (right). Photo credit: Dag Inge Blindheim and Kerstin Perner.

Working 24-hour shifts on the ship meant that we achieved a lot and we brought home more than 200 m of muddy sediment cores from the sea floor from the western Nordic Seas and the east Greenland Margin and more than 190 water samples.

Although it was 12 hours of hard work most of the days, it was a pleasure to be part of the cruise. It has certainly not been my last cruise, if it is up to me, and I will look forward to a new cruise if I am lucky enough to get the chance. Weather was nice most of the time, but of course, we had some days of rough seas.  The professionalism of the crew of G.O. Sars created an excellent atmosphere for work and time off, it was more like being on a real 4 star cruise if we ignore the time we worked.

Henrik is taking DNA samples of a gravity core (left) and water samples from the CTD (middle). Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft. I am happy after having packed one of the last sediment sections, which is now ready to be sent to Bergen and further analyzed (right). Photo credit: Kerstin Perner

Henrik is taking DNA samples of a gravity core (left) and water samples from the CTD (middle). Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft. I am happy after having packed one of the last sediment sections, which is now ready to be sent to Bergen and further analyzed (right). Photo credit: Kerstin Perner

On the ice2ice cruise the scientists were Eystein, Carin, Jørund, Dag Inge, Bjørg, Christian, Margit, and Amandine from Uni Research (Uni Research Climate, Norway), Stig, Sarah, Evangeline, Henrik, Ashley, and Ida from UiB (University of Bergen, Norway), Flor from GEUS (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Denmark), Mads from CIC (Centre for Ice and Climate, Denmark), Kerstin from IOW (Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde, Germany), Albertine from Bris. (University of Bristol, UK), and myself Iben from DMI & CIC (Danish Meteorological Institute & Centre for Ice and Climate, Denmark). We were 19 participants, 8 men and 11 women, representing 8 different nationalities, and supported by a ship crew of 15. We were in good spirits all the time and a successful cruise!

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The scientific crew of the ice2ice cruise. Photo credit: Iben Koldtoft

The cruise would not be possible without support from the European Research Council Synergy project ice2ice (Danish-Norwegian), Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research (Norway) and Institute of Marine Research (Norway), who provided research vessel and crew onboard.

You can read more about the ice2ice project on its homepage https://ice2ice.b.uib.no/

Iben Koldtoft is PhD student within the ice2ice project at Danish Meteorological Institute and Centre for Ice and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Denmark and supervised by Jens H. Christensen and Christine S. Hvidberg. She is interested in modelling the dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the smaller glacier, Renland Ice Cap, in the Scoresbysund Fjord, Eastern Greenland. Currently she is coupling the ice sheet model PISM to the ocean by implementation of calving to the model. Surface mass balance simulations of the Greenland Ice Sheet will later be used to assess the quality of the interaction between the ice sheet model and a climate model in comparison to observations.

Science and Shovels: Traversing across the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Science and Shovels: Traversing across the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Moving 150 tonnes of equipment more than 450km across the Greenland Ice Sheet sounds like a crazy idea. In that context, moving a 14-metre high, dome-shaped, wooden structure seems like a minor point, but it really is not. I do not think I realised what an awesome and awe-inspiring project I was part of, until I was out there, in the middle of the blindingly white ice sheet, and I saw the enormous, black structure moving slowly towards our first stop for the night.

Traverse route from NEEM to EGRIP.

Traverse route from NEEM to EGRIP. Topographic map from Bamber et al., 2001, JGR.

Why are we doing this? 

Our field camp NEEM has been inactive since 2012, when the last samples were retrieved from the 2.5km deep borehole. In the following 3 years, scientists and traverse teams have visited the deserted camp occasionally. Now it was time to move everything and start all over on a new drilling project, EGRIP (East Greenland Ice core Project) in Northeast Greenland.

Helle, Paul and Anna readying one of the sledges for the traverse.

Helle, Paul and Anna readying one of the sledges for the traverse. Credit: N. B. Karlsson.

How do you move an entire camp?

In 2012, most of the equipment was packed down on big sledges ready to move, and the dome was fitted with four big skis. The first task this year was to check that everything was in order for the traverse. Let me start by saying that one cannot overestimate exactly how much snow can pile up during three years. The key piece of equipment is therefore a shovel. To be precise, you need a whole bunch of shovels. The two garage tents also had to be taken down. It turned out that they were encased in ice, so add some spades and a couple of sledgehammers to the required equipment.

Freeing the dome

Finally, the skis under the dome had to be freed. The shape of the dome means that the snow drifts around it instead piling up, but the skies under the dome were covered in a mixture of ice and snow. When I look at the photos now, it seems almost unbelievable that we manually cut free and moved away that amount of ice. The piles of ice blocks grew and grew during the two days, where people were working away with chainsaws, shovels and hands to clear the skis. In the meantime, Sverrir, our Icelandic mechanic, displaced tonnes of snow in front of the dome, in order to build a ramp for dragging up the dome.

Freeing the dome using shovels, chainsaws and a pisten-bully. The skies are beginning to emerge from under the dome. The skis support the "bike wheel" (blue) that the dome is mounted on.

Freeing the dome using shovels, chainsaws and a pisten-bully. The skies are beginning to emerge from under the dome. The skis support the “bike wheel” (blue) that the dome is mounted on. Credit: N. B. Karlsson.

“It’s going to topple”

I do not think I will ever forget the nerve-wracking moment when the dome was first jolted free. As it moved slightly forward one of the skis lifted completely off the ground, and for a brief, alarming second I thought, “It is going to topple”. Then with a thud, the ski reconnected with the ground and the dome moved slowly up the ramp towards its first stop on the way to EGRIP.

Traversing

Once the traverse started, the days passed in a blur. You get up early, and some days you wait for hours before setting out because there is a problem with one of the vehicles. Other days, everything works perfectly and you scramble to get everything you need out of the dome, before the ladder is hoisted up and the traverse is on its way. Our convoy was a very mixed lot of vehicles; the big Case tractor driven by Pat pulled the dome. Two Pisten-Bullies pulled sledges containing everything from fuel and extra living quarters to our old forklift. Then we had two Flexmobiles, the elderly gentlemen of the convoy, going at a nice, sedate speed, and finally three skidoos, the science teams.

Anna is checking the radar equipment as one of the pisten-bullies is approaching.

Anna is checking the radar equipment while one of the pisten-bullies is approaching. Credit: N. B. Karlsson.

The freedom of skidooing

Driving a skidoo, we had a lot more freedom than the heavy vehicles. It is easier to make a quick stop on a skidoo and it is often necessary, if there are problems with the equipment. The downside is that it is significantly colder to spend all day on a skidoo than inside a nice, warm cabin. Temperatures were often below -20 degrees Celsius, and although we were fortunate and did not have high winds, it still gets chilly at the end of the day. The solution is to dress warm, in a ridiculous number of layers, and to eat a lot. After a few days we were experts in identifying food that do not freeze easily (salami, fat cheese, brownies), or food that does freeze but is still tasty frozen (smoked halibut, ham).

The Science

At the end of the traverse, Helle, Paul and Sepp had collected numerous samples of the surface snow, dug several metre-deep snow pits and drilled three shallow cores, one of them 15m deep. Simultaneously, Anna and I collected radar data along (almost) the entire traverse route. The data have not been analysed yet but we are looking forward to see the exciting results of our combined efforts.

Helle and Paul are drilling a shallow core while Anna is waiting for the traverse train to pass. Credit: N. B. Karlsson.

Although our traverse is over, the EGRIP project is just beginning. The aim of the project is to investigate the dynamics of fast-flowing ice streams by drilling an ice core through the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream. The EGRIP camp will run until 2020 and next year the camp infrastructure will be set up and drilling will start. Exciting times ahead!

On the traverse we were Dorthe, Helle, Joel, Jørgen Peder, Paul, and myself from CIC (Centre for Ice and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Anna and Sepp from AWI (Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremerhaven, Germany), Sverrir, our Icelandic mechanic, Matthias the medic, and Pat Smith from the Greenland Inland Traverse, GrIT, a logistics operations funded by the US National Science Foundation. We were 11 participants, 7 men and 4 women, representing 5 different nationalities, and we had an amazing time!

The project would not be possible without support from the A.P. Møller Foundation, University of Copenhagen, the Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany), Bjerkness Centre (Norway) and the National Science Foundation (USA), who provided staff and a tracked vehicle.

More information:

Read the press release here announcing our arrival at the EGRIP camp.

All our field diaries are available here.

The whole traverse train poses for the end-of-traverse photo. Credit: NEEM field diary.

The whole traverse train poses for the end-of-traverse photo. Credit: NEEM field diary.

 

Ice Nomads: The iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica

A typical iSTAR field camp with the living ‘caboose’ on the left (credit: Damon Davies).

A typical iSTAR field camp with the living ‘caboose’ on the left (credit: Damon Davies).

It’s the 2nd December 2013 and I find myself in one of those rare occasions in life where I feel I need to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. Why? Somehow I’m in control of a British Antarctic Survey De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft flying over the white featureless expanse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. I’m part of a team of 12 heading to Pine Island Glacier, a remote ice stream 75°S and around 1500 km from Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The journey so far has taken four flights from London to Punta Arenas on the Southern tip of Chile and across the Drake Passage to Earth’s southernmost continent. Our pilot, John is having some lunch and keeping a close eye on my erratic attempts to hold a constant bearing and altitude as I ‘co-pilot’ the final leg of our journey. On the horizon I spot a thin strip of bright white snow that marks the groomed ski-way of our landing site.

John takes back the controls and eases the throttle down for a perfectly smooth landing. I step down from the plane with a familiar squeak and crunch of cold dry snow underfoot in an unfamiliar environment like nothing I’ve experienced before. I squint as my eyes adjust to the bright white desert of flat ice sharply contrasted by a crystal clear blue sky spanning the distant horizon in every direction. This will be my home for the next few months as I embark on my first Antarctic field season as part of the first iSTAR science traverse of Pine Island Glacier.

The iSTAR research programme

iSTAR (ice sheet stability and research programme) is a £7.4 million research programme funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) involving 11 UK universities and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Its aim is to improve understanding of ice-ocean interaction and ice dynamic response of Amundsen Sea sector of the West Antarctic.

Over the past few decades this region has been undergoing the greatest rates of ice loss on the planet causing concern over its potential future contribution to rising global sea-level. Pine Island Glacier (PIG) drains around 10% of the West Antarctic Ice sheet (WAIS) which contains enough ice if melted to raise global sea-level by approximately 3.3 metres.

In order to make accurate predictions about how this region will respond to environmental change requires good physical observations and measurements. Through scientific ocean cruises and an over-ice traverse spanning two field seasons combined with satellite remote sensing and numerical modelling, iSTAR aims to provide the data necessary to improve the accuracy of projections for the contribution of the WAIS to future sea level.

The iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier

Traditionally the UK has conducted glaciological investigations in remote regions of Antarctica using small field units typically consisting of one scientist and a field assistant. For larger drilling projects equipment has to be flown by aircraft at great expense and fuel consumption.

For iSTAR, a new approach was undertaken using two ‘tractor trains’. These consist of two Pisten Bully snow tractors towing two long poly sleds with fuel bladders and three metal cargo sledges including a living ‘caboose’; a converted shipping container with a cooking and living space (essentially a caravan fit for polar travel!). All this equipment was delivered by the RRS Ernest Shackleton to the Abbot Ice Shelf in February 2012 and driven to Pine Island Glacier ready for the first traverse the following season.

iSTAR tractor train (credit: Alex Taylor).

iSTAR tractor train (credit: Alex Taylor).

This infrastructure provided a means to meet the ambitious science aims of the iSTAR traverse making it possible to collect more ground measurements over a wider area than ever previously possible and with greater fuel efficiency.

The traverse follows a 900 km route visiting the trunks and tributaries of PIG to conduct a range of measurements on the ice.

The route of the iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica (credit: www.istar.ac.uk).

The route of the iSTAR traverse of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica (credit: www.istar.ac.uk).

So what about the science?

iSTAR science

The iSTAR programme is split into four science projects, with iSTAR A and B making measurements from scientific ships and iSTAR C and D collecting data during the overland traverse of Pine Island Glacier. It is the overland traverse that we were involved in.

iSTAR C: Dynamic Ice project:

This project aims to understand the internal dynamic processes responsible for transmitting the effect of thinning of PIG’s floating ice shelf caused by melting of warm ocean currents upstream into the trunk and tributaries of the ice stream. Of particular interest is how the underlying geology of the ice influences its flow.

Over the course of two field seasons the traverse collected over 2000 km of radar data and over 40 km of seismic surveys were completed. The team used skidoos to tow radar equipment across the ice making the most of the 24 hours of daylight of the Antarctic Summer to provide detailed images of the ice thickness and bed topography. The geology of the subsurface was also investigated by analysing the seismic energy returned from small explosive charges buried in the surface of the ice.

Operating the ice penetrating radar (left) and firing explosives for seismic surveys (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

Operating the ice penetrating radar (left) and firing explosives for seismic surveys (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

iSTAR D: Ice Loss project

Satellite measurements over the past two decades have revealed rapid thinning (up to 1.5 metres per year) and acceleration of PIG’s ice flow. The iSTAR D project aims to take measurements to extend the record of past snow accumulation and ice density to improve estimates of ice loss that cannot be determined from satellite measurements.

To determine past accumulation and understand surface processes such as snow density changes and compaction, we drilled 10 shallow (50 metre) ice cores. These ice cores had to be kept frozen and shipped back to the UK where their chemistry is being analysed to enable us to quantify how much snow has fallen onto the ice sheet in the past. Over 20 snow density profiles were recorded using a device called a ‘Neutron Probe’ which uses a radioactive source to measure neutron scattering from within the snowpack to calculate ice density. This might sound dangerous but to my disappointment after spending many hours operating this equipment I have yet to develop super powers!

Rob, Becky and Emma inside the ice core drilling tent (left), Damon and Andy working at a Neutron Probe site (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Rob, Becky and Emma inside the ice core drilling tent (left), Damon and Andy working at a Neutron Probe site (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Surface radars operating at the same frequency as satellites that orbit the earth measuring ice surface changes were also deployed. These ground radar measurements enable us to improve the accuracy of satellite derived estimations of ice volume loss from West Antarctica.

Anna operating the surface radar (credit: Jan De Rydt).

Anna operating the surface radar (credit: Jan De Rydt).

Now you know all about iSTAR science but what’s it like to live and work in one of the most remote regions of the coldest, highest, driest and windiest continent on Earth?

Life in the field

Life on the iSTAR traverse is perhaps similar to a travelling circus, only instead of jugglers and gymnasts we have scientists and mechanics and rather than a ‘Big Top’ we had the ice core drilling tent. At each of the 22 sites on the traverse route the circus would set up camp for a few days to a week. Tents would be pitched, sledges un-hitched and science equipment unloaded, the whole process of setting up camp taking just an hour or two.

Setting up the drilling tent (left). iSTAR accommodation (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Setting up the drilling tent (left). iSTAR accommodation (right) (credit: Alex Taylor).

This region of Antarctica has a reputation for wild weather. Temperatures can drop below -30°C and winds can reach hurricane speeds reducing visibility to within a few metres. However, on calm days it can be so silent you can hear your own heartbeat and the strength of the summer sun provides welcome warmth. Good weather means working long hours as you never know how long it might last. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, all you can do is shelter from the elements and wait patiently for the storm to pass, though patience can be tested when the storm lasts for a week!

iSTAR team members battling a storm (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). Tent damage after a big storm (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

iSTAR team members battling a storm (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). Tent damage after a big storm (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

The living ‘caboose’ offers a warm shelter away from the elements. This is also where the team gathers at meal times with everyone taking turns to cook for the rest of the group. The iSTAR menu normally consists of a porridge breakfast, soup and bread for lunch, some form of carbohydrate with meat slop for dinner followed by tinned fruit/pudding with powdered custard for dessert. The labels of some meal packages such as ‘chicken own juice’ and ‘sausages in lard’ aren’t particularly enticing but generally the food is good by Antarctic field standards.

Dinner-time in the caboose (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). James finishing off a cottage pie with a blow torch (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

Dinner-time in the caboose (left) (credit: Alex Taylor). James finishing off a cottage pie with a blow torch (right) (credit: Damon Davies).

The iSTAR traverse was an incredible experience that allowed me to learn a range of data acquisition techniques as well as learning how to work in the often hostile Antarctic weather. I was one of 9 PhD students and post-doctoral researchers involved in the traverse seasons who were able to work alongside highly experienced scientists in the field. Our success is a testament to the hard work and good spirit of everyone involved.

Left photo, 2013/14 traverse participants. Left to right, Anna Hogg (Leeds), Rob Bingham (Edinburgh), Andy Smith (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh), Johnny Yates (back row, BAS), Tim Gee (middle, BAS), Jan De Rydt (front, BAS), Steph Cornford (Bristol), James Wake (BAS), Peter Lambert (Reading), Thomas Flament (front, Leeds), David Vaughan (BAS) (credit: David Vaughan). Right photo, 2014/15 traverse participants. Left to Right, James Wake (BAS), Mark Baird (BAS), Tim Gee (BAS), Emma Smith (BAS), Isabelle Nias (Bristol), Robert Mulvaney (BAS), Andy Smith (BAS), Alex Brisbourne (back row, BAS), Rebecca Tuckwell (middle, BAS), Alex Taylor (front, BAS), Sebastian Rosier (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh) (credit: Alex Taylor).

Left photo, 2013/14 traverse participants. Left to right, Anna Hogg (Leeds), Rob Bingham (Edinburgh), Andy Smith (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh), Johnny Yates (back row, BAS), Tim Gee (middle, BAS), Jan De Rydt (front, BAS), Steph Cornford (Bristol), James Wake (BAS), Peter Lambert (Reading), Thomas Flament (front, Leeds), David Vaughan (BAS) (credit: David Vaughan). Right photo, 2014/15 traverse participants. Left to Right, James Wake (BAS), Mark Baird (BAS), Tim Gee (BAS), Emma Smith (BAS), Isabelle Nias (Bristol), Robert Mulvaney (BAS), Andy Smith (BAS), Alex Brisbourne (back row, BAS), Rebecca Tuckwell (middle, BAS), Alex Taylor (front, BAS), Sebastian Rosier (BAS), Damon Davies (Edinburgh) (credit: Alex Taylor).

For more information about the iSTAR research programme visit www.istar.ac.uk and the ‘stories from the field’ blog posts to read more tales from traverse fieldwork.

Acknowledgments: A huge thanks to James Wake, Tim Gee, Johnny Yates, Mark Baird and Alex Taylor for their tireless support in the field. The traverse could not have succeeded without support from the staff at Rothera Research Station. Also thanks to Emma Smith for helpful comments on this blog.

Edited by Sophie Berger


Damon Davies is a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences Glaciology and Cryosphere research group. His research uses geophysics to investigate the dynamics of ice stream beds and their control on ice stream flow.

My first journey to Antarctica – Brice Van Liefferinge

My first journey to Antarctica – Brice Van Liefferinge
(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

19 November 2014, the Iliuchine 76 gently lands on the runway of the Russian Antarctic station, Novolazarevskaya, in Dronning Maud Land. For the first time, I’m in Antarctica! It is 4 o’clock in the morning and we need to hurriedly offload 2 tons of material intended for our field mission near the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station. I’m deeply impressed by the landscape although it is dotted with containers, people and machines. I am impressed by the fuzz. I am impressed by the novelty. I am impressed by the icescape. It is cold, but I don’t feel it.

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

I take part in an expedition lasting five weeks and led by the Laboratoire de Glaciologie of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in the framework of the Icecon project.The project aims at constraining past and current mass changes of the Antarctic ice sheet in the coastal area of Dronning Maud Land (East Antarctica) to better understand past and present ice volumes and the extension of the Antarctic ice sheet across the continental shelf during the last glacial period. This year we are a team of 5 to do the job: GPS measurements, ice-core drilling, high- and low-frequency radar measurements (GSSI and ApRES), televiewer measurements … The ApRES radar is a new phase-sensitive radar developed by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), capable of detecting internal structures in the ice and changes in the position of internal layering over time.

After a couple of hours at the Russian base, it’s time to fly to the Princess Elisabeth Station (the Belgium base, PEA). The arrival in a Bassler (a former DC3 re-equipped with turbo-props) with stunning views of the Sor Rondane Mountains and the Princess Elisabeth station on the Utsteinen rim is simply magnificent. Alain Hubert, the base manager, gives us the first security rules and shows us the different parts of the base.

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

 

After following the various field training and especially an exercise that aims at pulling yourself out of crevasses, it’s time to inspect, to set up, and to test our equipment. While one part of the team sets up the drill, Frank Pattyn and I test the GPS and radar equipment, mainly the ApRES that is a new “toy” for us. The first results are promising, we can clearly identify the bed topography and internal layers. The two GPS systems sponsored by the “10km of the ULB”, a run organised by the students of our Faculty, are also tested next to the L1L2 GPS systems for precise positioning. As our departure is imminent, I’m excited (even though my level of Coca-cola are getting low – I ‘m an avid consumer of this “evil drink” and Frank was afraid that I wouldn’t survive without sufficient sugar intake).

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

On 27 November, we leave PEA in the evening for one night and one day across the Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf to Derwael ice rise. We are 6 scientists, 2 field guides and 1 technician. After 25 hours of travel, we set up the camp on the top of the divide. We start immediately with the radar measurements to locate potential drill sites. However, we get caught in a storm the following day and as Frank says “not a nice one”.

(Credit F. Pattyn and B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit F. Pattyn and B. Van Liefferinge)

 

The snow drift is just amazing and the atmospheric pressure drops frighteningly (“can this still go lower?”). The whiteboard installed in the living container is not wide enough to draw the graph of pressure change, nor is it high enough to accommodate the lowest values. Furthermore, it’s quite warm, meaning that snow melts in contact with persons and goods. Despite efforts of everyone to clear away the snow, we leave our tents and sleep in the containers for 2 days. Not the most comfortable nights, because we share a two-bunk space with three people, and despite a container it remains very shaky! After three days of amazing experience, we clean up the camp and the science restarts. For one week Frank and I perform radar and GPS measurements in a 10km radius around the camp. These measurements will be repeated in 2015-2016 to provide new data on ice compaction, density and flow. While Frank thoroughly checks the collected data, I have some time to get familiar with the drill, which should prove to be very useful thereafter. The “drill part” led by Jean-Louis Tison and Morgane Philippe aims at drilling two 30 m deep ice cores on Derwael Ice Rise, 2 km on each side of the divide. We want to investigate the spatial variability of snow accumulation induced by this ice rise that sticks approximately 300 m above the surrounding flat ice shelf and therefore perturbs the surface mass balance distribution (Lenaerts et al., 2014).

Blog_EGU (12)_mod

(Credit B. Van Liefferinge)

(Credit F. Pattyn and B. Van Liefferinge)

I use this week to improve my knowledge on other scientific techniques, such as the coffee-can method (will complement the results from the ApRES) or geodetic GPS measurements with Nicolas Bergeot. I also learn the basics of snowmobile mechanics (it’s surprising to see the amount of snow that can be put in an engine!). Unfortunately we get stuck for another 2 days by a new storm event. We use this time to have a look on the first radar profiles and to prepare the second part of the expedition.

 

 

On 9 December, we leave the camp on Derwael ice rise and move towards the Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf, 40km to the west. We set up the camp in a longitudinal depression (like a trench) on the ice shelf that stretches from the grounding line to the coast.

The purpose of this part of the field work is twofold: first of all, determine the mass budget of ice shelves. To do that, we need to map carefully the flow speed of the ice-shelf. Secondly, understand the formation of the trench in evaluating if under the ice-shelf, the ice is melting or accreting (formation of marine ice) and analyze the surface melt history by investigating near-surface melt layers.

The first three days are devoted to make radar measurements (ApRES) in the center and on the sides of the trench. The thickness of ice and the reflection at the interface with the ocean is different from the one on the ice rise; we take some time to develop a robust method and determine the best settings of the radar. Together with Frank Pattyn and Jan Lenaerts (InBev Baillet Latour fellowship, http://benemelt.blogspot.be/) I perform a 120km transect with a high-frequency radar towed by a snowmobile to map the near-surface internal structure along the ice shelf and link the drill site with the grounding zone. Driving at 8 km per hour for 8 hours a day, it’s an opportunity for me to think about how lucky I am to be here. Alone in the vastness of the Roi Baudouin ice-shelf, I feel very small. Back in camp, we find out that the drill got stuck at a depth of 54m in the borehole and preparations to free the drill are on their way. During this time I carry out a number of high-frequency radar measurements with Alain Hubert (the base manager) to fine-tune the equipment to potentially detect crevasses near the surface. To our surprise, we stumble upon a crevasse more than 500m long, 10m wide and 20m high. Moreover, we can safely descend through the apex of the crevasse to discover its vastness. Truly a magic moment!

(Credit A. Hubert)

(Credit A. Hubert)

 

Thirty-six hours later, and thanks to antifreeze, the drill restarts. This small technical incident pushes us to work the next couple of days through the day and the night (under the sun at 3am is rather special) and we take turns in operating the drill. We reach a depth of 107m, not far from the 155 meters needed to reach the bottom of the ice shelf, but the brittle ice makes progress very difficult. Nevertheless, this is the third core of the (short) season, and as valuable as the previous ones. We can clearly identify every single ice layer over 200 years as well as the surface melting history.

(Credit A. Hubert)

(Credit A. Hubert)

Before leaving back to the base, we finish the installation of the famous Tweetin’IceShelf project (http://tweetiniceshelf.blogspot.com); a project also presented at the EGU General Assembly in 2015. We deploy two GPSes on the flanks of the trench and one in the center. These are simple GPS systems that record their position every hour. They are named GPS CGEO (from Cercle de Géographie et de Géologie de l’ULB) and GPS CdS (from Cercle des Sciences). In the center of the trench, the ApRES is installed which measures once a day the radar signal through the ice. All systems will be effective throughout the Antarctic winter. Data are sent via Twitter to be followed by a larger community. Just follow the @TweetinIceShelf on Twitter. You will not be disappointed.

(Credit F. Pattyn)

(Credit F. Pattyn)

It’s time to go back to the station, which is reached after 20 hours of travel across the ice shelf and the coastal ice sheet. Over 2 days we will be at Cape Town and we have to clean up everything for the next field season.

(Credit N. Bergeot)

(Credit N. Bergeot)

 

I know it is my first time to Antarctica, and as most first-timers, an unforgettable experience of vastness, whiteness, silence, laughter, hard work and fun. When I board the plane I feel delighted and fulfilled and ready to find back green landscapes and city soundscapes in less than ten hours.

The text is based on the blog that was held during the mission: http://icecon2012.blogspot.be/

Edited by Sophie Berger


Brice Van Liefferinge is a PhD student and a teaching assistant at the Laboratoire de Glaciology, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. His research focuses on the basal conditions of the ice sheets.

Young Scientist Events at the EGU General Assembly

Are you going to the EGU General Assembly in Vienna next week? Check out these events for young scientists (YS).

Short courses

The idea behind the young scientist short courses is to give an insight into a certain area and/or the applications/uses/pitfalls in and around the topic. There are a lot of very interesting courses at this year’s meeting. I would like to highlight two short courses in particular since I will be chairing them! Please consider dropping by and meet the experts who have kindly agreed to participate and share their knowledge.

Meet the editors
An open discussion with the chief editor of the EGU journals Climate of the Past, Professor Carlo Barbante, and Earth System Dynamics, Professor Axel Kleidon. This workshop will discuss topics including: open access publishing; the review process, from submission to publication; how to review a paper; top tips for paper writing and submission, as well as an open question and answer session. Scientists from all divisions and at all stages of their career are encouraged to attend.
Time and date: Tuesday the 14th of April, 15:30 – 17:00
Place: Room B7

Introduction to climate modelling
Climate modelling is an extremely powerful tool for the quantification of earth system dynamics, allowing the reconstruction of past environments and projections of future change. In this workshop, an introduction to and discussion of the development and application of models at different spatial and temporal scales will be discussed and illustrated. Christoph Raible is a senior scientist of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern. In this workshop, he will share his broad experience of the field of climate modelling and its application to climates of the past, present and future.
Time and date: Wednesday the 15th of April, 19:00 – 20:00
Place: Room B12

After the short course we will head to Café Einstein to join the Ice Core Young Scientists social event.

Young Scientists Lounge

This year the young scientist lounge is located on the red level of the conference centre. The lounge has free tea and coffee and is a place to hang out and refuel before emerging yourself in the hectic experience that is the EGU General Assembly. It is also a good place for networking and meeting other young scientists in your field (or indeed in another field). Throughout the week, YS representatives from the different divisions will be present in the lounge. Do approach them with your ideas, concerns and questions, or just for a friendly chat! I will be there Wednesday and Thursday during the late afternoon session. Please drop by and say hello!

 

Young Scientists Forum

The YS forum is to place to meet your young scientist representatives, find out what the EGU does for young scientists and take the chance to become more involved in the Union. This forum is a great opportunity to let us know what you would like from the EGU, find out how you can get involved in the Assembly and meet other scientists in the EGU young scientist community.

Time and date: Tuesday 14th of April 12:15 – 13:15

Place: Room G8

 

Am I a young scientist?

If you have made it this far into my post, you probably are. Officially the EGU defines a Young Scientist as (1) age 35* or younger and (2) be an undergraduate or postgraduate (Masters/PhD) student or have received her/his highest degree qualification (e.g., BSc, MSc, PhD) within the last 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 attend the short courses and contribute to the discussion!

 

What else?

The General Assembly can be an overwhelming experience. Here are my tips for surviving a week of full on science

  • 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.
  • Go to a session outside your field or area of interest. Even in completely different research topics, I often find similarities in methods or applications that inspire me to think differently about my own research.
  • Explore Vienna. Treat yourself to a bit of time off to recover during the week. If your programme is completely packed, then hurry to the U-Bahn in a lunch break (the ticket is after all included in the registration fee) and go to the centre of town. Half an hour’s stroll will give you at least an impression of the city and you will not leave Vienna with the feeling that you have really only seen the conference centre.

If you want to know more, you can also check out this link.
I hope to see you there!

Glaciers on Mars

Glaciers on Mars

“I did not know that there is water on Mars!” This a sentence I hear surprisingly often when I talk about glaciers on Mars. In fact, it has been known for some time that water exists in the form of ice and water vapour on the planet. For example, water ice layers several kilometres thick cover the Martian poles, and the ground close to the Polar Regions has permafrost patterns very similar to what we see on Earth.

The glaciers on Mars were discovered in the 1970s on images from the Viking missions. From the images it was evident that features made up of a soft, deforming material existed in some parts of the planet. At the time, it was suggested that the features might consist of a mixture of water ice, CO2 ice or perhaps mud.

More than 10,000 water ice bodies (blue dots) have been found between 30 and 50 degrees (blue lines). Credit: Mars Digital Image Model, NASA/J. Levy/Nanna Karlsson

More than 10,000 water ice bodies (blue dots) have been found between 30 and 50 degrees (blue lines). Credit: Mars Digital Image Model, NASA/J. Levy/Nanna B. Karlsson

In 2005, NASA launched the satellite Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that carried amongst other instruments the SHARAD (SHAllow RADar) sounder. The instrument emitted radar waves that could penetrate the surface of the planet, and return information on what was below the dusty surface. The mission proved successful and – amongst many other discoveries – the SHARAD measurements showed that the glaciers consist of more than 90% water ice .

We now know the composition of the glaciers but many questions remain. One extremely interesting observation is the fact that the glaciers are only found in particular latitude bands: between 30 and 50 degrees on both hemispheres. A recent study has mapped more than 10,000 features in these latitudes. In other words, the glaciers are much more abundant than initially thought, but why are they there in the first place? The answer is probably to be found somewhere in Mars’s past. More than 5 million years ago, the amount of solar insolation at the poles of Mars was dramatically different compared to today. Models have shown that during this time water ice at the poles would have been unstable and possibly migrated to the midlatitudes. When the climate changed, again the water migrated back to the poles. The glaciers could therefore be remnants of a past, large ice sheet.

CTX imagery of a glacier surrounding a central massif. Credit: CTX/JMars.

CTX imagery of a glacier surrounding a central massif. Credit: CTX/JMars.

How much water do the glaciers contain then? To answer this question, we can use knowledge of glaciers on Earth. A glacier is essentially a big chunk of ice, and when it flows, it obtains a shape that tells us something about how soft the ice is. Water ice moves and deforms in a certain way, and the slope of the surface of a glacier therefore reveals information about the bed under the glacier. Looking at images of the Martian surface, we can see where the glaciers are, and from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter we know the surface elevation. This allows us to setup models for how the ice behaves on Mars.

Combining the models with the radar measurements and maps of the glaciers, it turned out that the glaciers contain more than 150 thousand cubic kilometres of ice. This amount of ice may cover the surface of the planet in a 1.1 metres thick ice layer.

Dust covered water ice close to the south pole and white CO2-ice.

Dust covered water ice close to the south pole and white CO2-ice. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin.

If you want to know more about glaciers on Mars check out my recent paper published in Geophysical Research Letters. You can also meet me at the EGU General Assembly next week and listen to my talk at 8:30am, Wednesday the 15th of April in Room R13 (Session CR6.1Modelling ice sheets and glaciers).