On Dec. 13, 2007, the International Polar Year (IPY) will launch its second International Polar Day, focusing on ice sheets and traverses.
About 90 per cent of the earth's fresh water is locked up in the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. Outlet glacier flow from large ice caps such as Greenland has been accelerating, causing enhanced iceberg calving and subsequent increases in glacier mass loss. This is important for both freshwater inputs to the global ocean, and sea level change.
IPY is a large international and interdisciplinary coordinated research effort focused on the polar regions. Memorial University is represented on this initiative by various faculty including Dr. Lev Tarasov, associate professor of Physics and Physical Oceanography and the Canada Research Chair in Glacial Dynamics Modeling. He is also a co-investigator on the Canadian contingent of the international Glaciodyn project.
The Glaciodyn project, or the dynamic response of Arctic glaciers to global warming, is part of IPY and is concerned with climate change impacts on tidewater glacier flow. Previous studies have shown that tidewater glaciers – which drain directly into the ocean from large ice caps and ice sheets such as Greenland - have experienced accelerated ice flow and increased rates of mass loss by iceberg calving over the past decade.
Glaciodyn aims to find out why.
In Canada, a team of seven glaciologists are working on the Belcher Glacier, a tidewater outlet of the Devon Island ice cap in Arctic Canada.
For three months in 2007, members of the research team lived and worked on the Belcher Glacier. Their main task was to collect field data to determine the glacier's current health and explore its response to future climate change scenarios.
"My role in the project is part of the large scale ice-cap modeling and the development of a physically constrained ice calving model, something the community currently lacks and which is crucial to constraining future sea level change," said Dr. Tarasov. "If all goes to plan, I should be spending three weeks this coming July at the ice calving terminus of the glacier collecting data, enjoying the beauty of the bergs and trying to keep peace with the neighborhood polar bears."
This study will provide a new state-of-the-art model for integrated glacier studies and will give new information on ice dynamics and glacier evolution in cold Arctic glacier systems.
So far the team has used ice-penetrating radar to measure both ice thickness and the topography under the ice. They've also installed time-lapse cameras to monitor the development of surface meltwater drainage systems and iceberg calving at the glacier terminus during the summer melt season.
They've used global positioning systems (GPS) to measure rates of ice movement, and have installed automated weather stations to record local meteorological conditions. The data will allow them to explore how increased amounts of meltwater draining into the glacier as the climate warms will affect how rapidly the ice flows, and how changes in the rate of ice flow affect the amount of iceberg calving.
This work will continue in the spring and summer of 2008.