Studies of Earthquakes and Rapid Motions of Ice (SERMI):

An investigation of glacial earthquakes and glacier dynamics

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Project Overview and Publications

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2010 field season:

Photos and maps to be posted at some point...!

2009 field season:

GPS networks and auxiliary geophysical instrumentation were installed at Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq glaciers in East Greenland in late June and early July. The GPS networks are composed of a mix of telemetry-capable stations and locally recording stations. At Kangerdlugssuaq glacier, most of the stations are telemetering data by radio to a local base station, and those data are then retrieved via an Iridium satellite link (see below for network telemetry status). At Helheim glacier, the majority of the GPS stations also telemeter to a local base station via radio link, and a subset of those are currently available through the Iridium link (telemetry status to be added here in the future). The Helheim geophysical network also includes time-lapse cameras, tide gauges, and a seismic network.
Update: The network at Kangerdlugssuaq was removed on August 27 after a successful season of data collection. A reduced network remains in place at Helheim glacier. New maps coming soon!

Helheim network map, summer 2009

Helheim network map, winter 2009

Telemetry status (under construction, may be incomplete)

Kangerdlugssuaq network map, summer 2009

Telemetry status link no longer active (network decommissioned 2009/08/27)
Many thanks to Unavco, especially Marianne Okal and Bjorn Johns, and IRIS-PASSCAL, especially Tim Parker, for engineering support. Thanks also to our helicopter pilots and mechanics, this season Janus Vilendal Petersen, Erling Wennevik, Peter Harrishøj, Andreas Hedström, Morten Jørgensen, and Per Houg.

Project overview:

Project SERMI is a collaborative, international, interdisciplinary project aimed at understanding the dynamics of large outlet glaciers on earthquake to interannual timescales. The project focuses on East Greenland's two largest outlet glaciers: Helheim glacier and Kangerdlugssuaq glacier. We are working to integrate seismological, glaciological, and geodetic observations, collected in the field and via remote sensing, to build an understanding of flow dynamics and short-timescale glacier behavior.

One important motivation for our work is to obtain an understanding of the mechanisms by which glacial earthquakes are generated, and of their relation to glaciological and climatological processes. This new class of earthquakes, of which more than 90% occur in Greenland, was identified in 2003 by Ekström et al. (2003). Little is understood about the mechanism by which glacial earthquakes occur. Recent work (Ekström et al., 2006) shows, however, that the number of glacial earthquakes that occur on Greenland is strongly seasonally modulated, with the largest number of events occurring during the late summer months; a rapid increase in the number of earthquakes at outlet glaciers across Greenland since approximately 2000 suggests a link to large-scale climate change.

The SERMI research project consists of two main parts: (1) field deployments of Global Positioning System (GPS) stations on Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq Glaciers, located in East Greenland, to obtain direct measurements of surface motion with high time resolution; and (2) integrated, interdisciplinary analysis of recorded GPS, seismic, and glaciological data using state-of-the-art techniques from each field to obtain an understanding of the mechanism by which glacial earthquakes and other short-time-scale flow variations occur. Seismic analyses of global and local seismic data provide estimates of earthquake source characteristics, while geodetic observations provide detailed information about the timing and pattern of deformation within the glacier. Auxiliary geophysical measurements (e.g., tide gauge, AWS, airborne mapping) provide information about environmental conditions at the glacier.


Some of our findings to date are published in the following papers:

Field reports and
photos from the
Helheim 2006 campaign

Current and recent participants:

U.S.: Denmark: Spain:

Columbia University/LDEO, USA:
Meredith Nettles, Göran Ekström,
Stephen Veitch

Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), Denmark:
Tine B. Larsen, Andreas P. Ahlstrøm,
Morten Langer Andersen

Institute for Space Sciences, CSIC/IEEC, Spain:
Pedro Elósegui, Julia de Juan,
Ismael González

University of Maine, USA:
Gordon Hamilton, Leigh Stearns (now KU),
Kristin Schild

Danish National Space Center (Danmarks Rumcenter), Denmark:
René Forsberg, Lars Stenseng,
Shfaqat Abbas Khan

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA:
James L. Davis, Eric Malikowski

Project funding and logistical support:

U.S. National Science Foundation
The Commission for Scientific Research in Greenland (KVUG)
Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (MEC)
Gary Comer Science and Education Foundation

Danish National Space Center
LDEO Climate Center The Dan and Betty Churchill Exploration Fund

The SERMI project is supported by the Gary Comer Science and Education Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation (ARC-0612609, ARC-0713970/ 0710891/0713749), the Danish Commission for Scientific Research in Greenland (KVUG), the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (CGL2005-25079-E, CGL2006-27121-E, POL2006-07076), NASA (NNG04GL69G, NNG04GK39G), the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), Geocenter Copenhagen, the Danish National Space Center, the Lamont-Doherty Climate Center, and the Dan and Betty Churchill Exploration Fund.
[Note: Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF) or any other institution or organization providing support.]

Meredith Nettles, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, copyright ©2006-2012, all rights reserved.