GeoLog

fieldwork

Imaggeo on Mondays: Exploring ice in the deep

Imaggeo on Mondays: Exploring ice in the deep

The occurrence of sporadic permafrost in the Alps often needs challenging fieldwork in order to be investigated. Here in the high altitude karstic plateau of Mt. Canin-Kanin (2587 m asl) in the Julian Alps (southeastern European Alps) several permanent ice deposits have been recently investigated highlighting how also in such more resilient environments global warming is acting rapidly. Important portions of the underground cryosphere are actually rapidly melting, loosing valuable paleoarchives contained in the ice.

Description by Renato R. Colucci, as it first appeared on imaggeo.egu.eu.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: On the way to Tristan’s penguins

Imaggeo on Mondays: On the way to Tristan’s penguins

Tristan da Cunha is a remote volcanic island in the south Atlantic Ocean. In fact, it is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. Tristan is still volcanically active; the last time it erupted was in 1961. After the eruption, which luckily did not have any casualties, the whole population of around 260 people evacuated the island for some time, but they all returned back to the island because it was home.

I took this photo while aboard the ISOLDE research cruise associated with the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany. The ISOLDE project focuses on investigating the electromagnetic, gravimetric and seismic activity present on this little island.

There are several reasons why this area is particularly interesting for multi-disciplinary geophysical studies. First, the island is a prominent candidate for a deep-rooted hot spot. A hot spot is a volcanic region believed to be fed by mantle plumes, which bring considerable heat from deep in the Earth. Deploying ocean bottom seismometers (OBS) should help investigate the presence (or absence) of a whole-mantle plume beneath the island. Second, geophysical analysis in this region can help scientists better understand the tectonic processes involved in the extension of the South Atlantic margins and the formation of the Walvis Ridge.

In 2012, the ISOLDE (as part of the SAMPLE project) research cruise aimed to acquire a year’s worth of data on the marine electromagnetic activity, active and passive seismicity, gravity and bathymetry around Tristan da Cunha. Among others, there were 24 OBS deployed on the sea floor (around 3000-4000 m in depth). These instruments stay on the ocean bottom for one year and continuously record seismic signals.

After one year, in 2013, I joined the recovery cruise. This was my second time on a research vessel, but it was the first time I actually worked as a technical assistant on OBS.

The cruise started from Walvis Bay, a coastal town in Namibia. After a one-week transit from the harbour to the first station, we spent around seven days recovering 12 OBS around Tristan da Cunha.

The process of recovering the instruments is usually straight forward. To start, you head to the location where you first deployed the instrument, put a transducer into the water and then ping the OBS. If you get a response, you enter a code that sends an acoustic signal to release the main instrument from its steel anchor. The floating units attached to the instrument then take care of bringing the OBS back to the sea surface. Depending on the depth, it can take up to an hour until the OBS resurfaces (e.g. this is a simple calculation: 3000m deep, rising velocity of 1 m/s).

This would be a perfect recovery procedure, but you know, it rarely happens like this! After recovering half of the instruments over the course of about a week, the team got a well-deserved day off on Tristan.

Tristan da Cunha is such a small, beautiful, strange and lonely island. I was almost expecting to find a lost native tribe there, but in truth, it looked like any small town in England, with tiny gardens in front of their houses. Once we arrived at the island we had the choice between taking a touristic tour of the potato fields, where the Tristanians go in summer for holidays, or exploring the island independently.

I decided to go off to the north of the island. It was a perfect day, sunshine with no clouds in the sky, which was surprising for the South Atlantic. I wandered off past the remains of the famous 1961 eruption and the island’s own dumping place until I couldn’t go further. I arrived at a stony beach, from where I could see our ship, the M/S Merian, in the distance, anchored before the island’s coast, since our vessel was too big for Tristan’s small harbour.

I spotted the three penguins standing next to each other sun bathing. ‘Chilled guys’, I thought; and even when I drew closer to take the shot, they looked entirely relaxed and barely noticed me. It’s not like they had seen so many tourists around here! After taking the picture, I placed myself next to them (it’s surprising how smelly they are) to enjoy the view and the sun. Further down the beach, I also spotted a big mama seal and its adorable small fluffy baby. Right in front of me an orca emerged from the waters, properly trying to get to the seals. It flashed its fin before diving down again.

All in all, it was a surreal experience sitting on the remotest island on Earth surrounded by animals I usually only see in a zoo. After one wonderful day on Tristan da Cunha, we went back onboard to continue recovering the remaining OBS from the deep ocean.

By Maria Tsekhmistrenko, University of Oxford (UK)

References

SAMPLE webpage

ISOLDE project description

OBS provided by DEPAS pool in AWI

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: In-tents Icelandic sunset

Imaggeo on Mondays: In-tents Icelandic sunset

This photograph was taken at the campsite near lake Mỳvatn during a field trip to Iceland. Every year a group of students from Wageningen University travels from the Netherlands to Iceland for a weeklong excursion as part of a course on catchment hydrology. The aim of the trip is to provide students with real life examples of the processes they learned during their lectures.

After a rainy morning that day, tents and equipment were packed away as quickly as possible in order to escape the wetness. The drive took the group from the campsite in Höfn, at the foot of the Vatnajökull glacier in southeastern Iceland, along the coastal highway up north towards Myvatn. Iceland is famous for its raw and beautiful nature, with waterfalls seemingly around every corner and the imposing presence of the glaciers and volcanos in the distance.

Upon our arrival at the campsite in the evening, people begrudgingly noticed that the tents were still wet from the morning rain. The campsite was situated at the bottom of a formidable hill, which provided stunning views over the lake and landscape. Not wanting to sleep in a damp tent, a few students picked up their tents, dismantled them, went up the hill and let the evening breeze do the rest, all amid the backdrop of a stunning sunset. The desire for dry covers even outweighed the very real danger of being eaten alive by masses of midges, a known pest and hazard in these parts.

When camping there is always things that can go wrong. But for places like Iceland it is the only way to truly appreciate and experience the country’s stunning beauty and wilderness. Gazing up at the northern lights from your sleeping bag is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While waking up in the middle of the night and having to put on boots and jacket to run to the bathroom is vexing, you might be rewarded with views of the top of the glacier that has been shrouded in clouds all day, making it seem like Zeus himself is taking a peek down from Mount Olympus to see what is going on. Iceland has to be experienced, not from a cosy hotel bed, but from a tent put up in the evening and taken down the next day. As Albert Einstein once said: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”. Even if that means hiking up a hill and holding your tent up into the wind to dry.

By Maria Warter, PhD student at Cardiff University

 

Imaggeo on Mondays: Science in the Arctic trenches

Imaggeo on Mondays: Science in the Arctic trenches

Pictured here are climate scientists processing ice core samples in the East Greenland Ice-core Project (EastGRIP) science trench 10 m under the surface of the Greenland ice cap.

The trenches of this ice core camp require minimum building materials, utilising giant inflatable balloons that are dug in and covered with snow. The snow is left to compact for a few days, thereafter leaving back an arch-shaped underground trench ideal for ice core processing activities.

At this site, an international research consortium of ten countries led by the Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen is aiming to retrieve an ice core from the surface of the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, a fast-moving ribbon of ice within the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS), all the way to the bedrock (approx. 2500 m).

Contrary to previous ice coring sites from the ice divide of the GIS, the EastGRIP site is a very dynamic place with a surface velocity of 55 m/year. Ice streams are responsible for a significant amount of the mass loss from the GIS, however their properties and behaviour are currently poorly understood. Having a better understanding of the streams’ features will allow for more accurate estimates of how the GIS accumulates and loses ice under current conditions as well as in warmer climate scenarios.

In order to understand the behavior of the site better, scientists carry out a series of state-of-the-art measurements on the ice core. They examine the physical properties and grain structure of the ice, as well as palaeoclimatic parameters, such as water isotopic ratios, gas concentrations and impurities. This research is often run by novel analytical methods that were specially developed in-house by members of this project. This constitutes a massive effort in terms of ice core sampling and measuring, a large part of which takes place in the field.

In weather-protected trenches under the surface of the snow, scientists process the ice core, part of which is measured on site. The rest of the ice is flown out of camp and distributed to laboratories around the world. The trenches provide a stable temperature environment, a feature important for the quality of the ice core sample.

By the end of the 2017 field season, the drill had reached a depth of 893 m and operations for 2018 are currently well under way. It is possible to follow the camp’s daily activities at the field diaries section here.

By Vasileios Gkinis, Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.