Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Looking Back to Understand Coming Conditions

The Swedish research vessel Oden anchors off of Thule Air Base, Greenland. Photo: Jessy Jenkins

Huge Petermann Glacier Study Gets Underway from Thule Air Base 

After more than a decade of international coordination and planning, scientists are off to examine the remote Petermann Glacier region in Northwestern Greenland. Tag along via the team’s blog and social media!

Twitter: @Petermann_ice
Instagram: #Petermann2015
Blog: https://petermannsglacialhistory.wordpress.com

The Petermann Glacier study is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Swedish Polar Secretariat. Research is led by Alan Mix of Oregon State University.

Why the Petermann Matters

This map shows the approximate locations of the Petermann Glacier region and Thule Air Base. Credit: NASA

This map shows the approximate locations of the Petermann Glacier region and Thule Air Base. Credit: NASA

Instead of grounding out on land, the Petermann Glacier ends in a fjord. Its grounding line is beneath the water surface and a floating ice shelf or ‘tongue’ extends into the fjord—a structure known to be sensitive to changes in ocean conditions. As the largest ocean-terminating glacier remaining in the Northern Hemisphere, the Petermann is impressive in its own right. Due to its remote location in a traditionally ice-choked portion of the Nares Strait, scientists have rarely studied this glacier.

Over the last decade, Petermann Glacier has drawn increased interest from scientists. As the end point of a drainage conduit for a huge portion of northern Greenland, the Petermann is more than a glacier: it is a major pipeline emptying the melting ice cap into the ocean. Previously thought to be relatively stable, the glacier has changed dramatically over the last decade—two enormous chunks of the ice tongue broke off the edge in 2010 and 2012, for example—and scientists want to understand what processes are causing the changes. They also want to learn how the glacier responded in the past to slightly warmer climate conditions to understand how it might behave as the Arctic continues to warm. This is critically important in terms of how the Petermann Glacier may contribute to sea-level rise.

What the Scientists are Doing

A better view of the Oden, which will both host scientists conducting oceanographic experiments and transport scientists to field sites on land. Photo: Jessy Jenkins

A better view of the Oden, which will both host scientists conducting oceanographic experiments and transport scientists to field sites on land. Photo: Jessy Jenkins

The team of about 60 scientists departs Thule Air Base on 29 July, travelling via the Swedish icebreaker, the R/V Oden, to the glacier region. A variety of experiments both aboard the Oden and on land will lead to discovery that helps answer the main question: How sensitive was the Petermann ice shelf to past climate changes, and what specific processes (for example, local sea-level, ocean temperatures, air temperatures, grounding location, etc.) caused the responses—and were these responses gradual or sudden? All of this information will contribute to better predictions of future behavior.

The team will be sending out updates as they spend August in the region collecting their information, so follow along:

Twitter: @Petermann_ice
Instagram: #Petermann2015
Blog: https://petermannsglacialhistory.wordpress.com