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Test Season in Greenland?



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photo © courtesy of Ed Stockard

Why go to Greenland?

If the field season is planned for Antarctica, the Southern tip of the globe, why would the test season be scheduled in Greenland, deep in the Northern hemisphere?

Good question.  Let’s review some of the reasons…

  • A central piece of the GAMBIT research is to use radar to image through the Antarctic ice sheet, some 2.5 miles thick.  An ice sheet is a mass of glacier that covers an expansive area of continental crust…larger than 19,000 square miles.  In order to test the equipment’s ability to image what is the largest remaining continental ice sheet you would need to find an area... with an ice sheet! There are only two places on Earth that currently have expanses of ice large enough to be called ice sheets -  Antarctica and Greenland!
  • The twin otter aircraft that will be carrying all the geophysical equipment is not owned by the project, but by a contractor. This means all the equipment will need to be constructed and/or installed in the aircraft.   Installing and testing new equipment means constant adjustments, corrections and refinements.  This is most easily done where there is ground support staff available.  Unlike Antarctica, Greenland has a year round population.
  • The headquarters for the plane being outfitted for flight is in Canada, a much closer flight to Greenland than Antarctica.
  • It is important to test the equipment in conditions that will provide an accurate set of data, and while Greenland and Antarctica are ‘poles apart’, at opposite times of the year the temperatures and conditions are close enough for testing purposes.
  • It is much more difficult and expensive to get to Antarctica for testing, and when it is impassable winter weather in Antarctica, conditions are accessible in Greenland.
Plane outfitted with radar & magnetometer

Twin otter in flight -photo credit Colin Anderson, KBA

Managing data - Researchers Adrienne Smith & Michael Studinger


Sp while conditions in Greenland are not identical to Antarctica they are the closest proxy we have on Earth and are close enough for the equipment to be tested and refined. 

Can we use our time in Greenland to do research? There is always science to be learned!

Greenland is a glacial system that is changing rapidly, and while there are differences between the glaciers and ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica there may be things we can learn about one from examining the other. For example, the picture at the top of the page is a 3 photo panorama of a now drained glacial lake on the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. The old lake levels are visible on either side of the photo. Enough calving (breaking off of glacial sections) has occurred in the center section of the ice sheet to hide the old lake level. The lake most likely drained when water lifted an ice blocked edge of the lake. This occurred in Sept 2007 east of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.  How could this relate to processes in Antarctica? We know that the glaciers in Antarctica are 'grounded' (connected or anchored) to sections of continental rock at their outlets (where they reach the continental edges). These grounding connections hold the glaciers in place, but if these connections are broken by fast moving ice from accelerating ice streams and ice and water being held back is released, pushing out into the surrounding ocean, much like the draining of this lake.

photos © courtesy of Ed Stockard
Small glacial melt pond on top of Greenland glacier. Researcher Robin Bell filming the moulin. Mini moulin delivering water to the glacier base.

Meltwater Pools on the glaciers in Greenland have received increased attention in recent months. Above (left) is an image of a small glacier meltwater pool. These pools collect on the surface of the glacier, and while this pool looks quiet at the moment, they can create high speed conduits carrying water from the surface of the glacier to the glacier base (above right). Water can rush at incredible speed to the glacier base, from ponds such as this, to large lake sized pools . Once at the base, the water slides under the glacier, lubricating the base and moving the glacier at an accelerated speed towards the continental edge. This ongoing process contributes to glacier calving, and an increased contribution toward sea level rise. Researchers have been studying this process in Greenland in parallel with the impact of subglacial lakes in Antarctica.





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