Cold Ice in a Warm Bath; The Next Stage…

Norra Kaskasapakte glaciar in Arctic Sweden, fieldwork was undertaken here in 2017 and will be undertaken here again in 2019 (Photo: F. Falcini July 2017).

The final stages of completing a PhD are a challenging time, with high pressures to do justice to several years of research with good writing combined with the insecurity of not knowing what happens next. However, the pace of change in the Arctic outstrips all of these pressures and leaves burning questions about how the changing climate is affecting the environment today, never mind tomorrow. Returning to the same field site two years after our previous fieldwork will raise mixed emotions of curiosity but also apprehension at seeing how the glacier (Kas’ glaciar) has changed after the extreme heat event of July 2018. It is critical to examine the impact of extreme heat events in an environment dominated by permafrost and glaciers, as well as monitor water temperatures that also influence ecosystems downstream. Having the opportunity to revisit the same field site and quantify the extent and speed of these changes is important for both understanding and predicting the pace of change in the Arctic with amplification of Climate Change.

GoPro image (A. Dye: 3/8/2017) of the thermal notch on Kas’ glaciar, which formed over 10 days.

During previous fieldwork in July 2017 we observed rapid formation (10 days) of a thermal notch forming at the waterline on the front of the glacier (see image above). Financial constraints meant that the range and ability of our remote controlled boat was limited, so that we could not fully assess the impacts of warmer lake water melting the glacier front. We observed a sustained period of iceberg calving activity as blocks of ice broke off the glacier front above the thermal notch undercutting the ice front. Thanks to support from INTERACT and the Gilchrist foundation we are able to revisit Kas glaciar and closely monitor how much ice breaks off from the glacier front using an array of time lapse cameras around the glacier front to create a series of 3D images through the melt season using Surface from Motion (SfM) (Mallalieu et al., 2017).

Boaty Mk II (500m range). The headlights should be useful for seeing into thermal notches cut into the glacier front where the ice meets the lake water. (Photo: A.Dye May 2019)

Our new remote controlled boat has arrived (Boaty Mk II) which has a 500m range and payload big enough to carry sonar equipment (with GPS) and an array of high precision temperature sensors.  This will allow us to capture temperature changes in the lake water across the whole glacier front and also create maps of the underwater ice front at the same time. So we will be able to see how changes in lake water temperature lead to changes in the glacier front above and below water during Summer 2019. We will also be mapping the temperatures in other proglacial lakes to work towards developing a model for how climate change affects proglacial lake thermal regime. The next stage now is testing all of the equipment before arranging for it to be shipped to the Arctic!


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