Meltzone 2011: CCNY expedition to track life and death of supraglacial lake

Jun 14, 2011

How do you observe signs of climate change in real time? Dr. Marco Tedesco, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at The City College of New York, plans to be the first to catch sight of one dramatic indicator of a warming world on the Greenland ice sheet this summer, and through social media, people will be able to track his progress.

Professor Tedesco arrived in Greenland earlier this month to attempt to witness – for the first time – the entire lifecycle of a supra-glacial lake – from earliest formation to its catastrophic draining. These huge bodies of water form each year atop melting glaciers. They commonly measure a kilometer or more across, but can drain suddenly within a matter of hours.

Professor Tedesco plans to use data he gathers on his expedition to answer lingering questions about these mysterious pools, including: What causes them to drain? Where does the water go? How does this affect the glaciers' inevitable flow toward the sea?

"This rapid draining is roughly equivalent to emptying a thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools at a rate of a dozen pools per minute," notes Nick Steiner, a graduate student in Professor Tedesco's Cryospheric Processes Lab. Mr. Steiner conducted research with Professor Tedesco in Greenland last year.

Professor Tedesco and his team will hike across the Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier in search of a lake to monitor and eventually make camp on the in the midst of an unstable landscape of embryonic lakes, streams and sub-glacier drainage.

Rounding out the expedition party are graduate student Patrick Alexander of the CUNY Graduate Center, biologist Christine Foreman of Montana State University, glaciologist Ian Willis and graduate student Alison Banwell of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, UK.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Video from a remotely controlled helicopter used in Antarctica to study surface streams and glaciers.

With such a large volume of water flowing out of the lakes – at the surface, under the glacier or thundering into deep holes called "moulins" – the surrounding ice is subject to movements that can cause ground-shaking 'ice quakes'. The team will drill an array of monitoring equipment into the ice to track ice movement as the lakes drain and better understand the drainage. The monitors use DGPS, a high-precision global positioning system that uses satellite and ground stations to give greater positioning accuracy than a car or cellphone GPS.

A radio-controlled mini helicopter fitted with a camera will help the expedition party estimate the size and depth of the lake. Professor Tedesco used a similar craft on a past expedition in Antarctica.

The team will also study the scattered, dark deposits of "cryoconite," extremely fine wind-borne particles carried to Greenland from around the world. Cryoconite begins life as soot, dust, soil and pollution and collects in depressions on the glacier. It absorbs more solar energy than the surrounding snow and ice, in turn, causing the snow to heat, melt and form small water-filled holes in the ice. Bacteria appear in these microhabitats, a phenomenon Dr. Foreman will study.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tedesco will measure the albedo, or reflected light, of the cryoconite versus clean snow and ice. Getting a baseline albedo for each type of ground coverage will allow them to calibrate satellite data and map coverage types on wide swaths of glacier.

Professor Tedesco will tweet his progress throughout the expedition for an interactive experience, updating his followers and Facebook page with photos, observations and their locations across the glacier. In addition, he will be reachable via satellite phone, and followers will have the chance to name a newborn lake on the glacier. Links to Twitter and Facebook feeds appear below.

Explore further: Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

Provided by City College of New York

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Melting glacier worries scientists

Jul 25, 2005

Scientists monitoring a Greenland glacier have found it is moving into the sea three times faster than a decade ago, The Independent reported Monday.

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

Apr 18, 2014

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1.5 / 5 (2) Jun 14, 2011
Will Dr. Tedesco also watch for changes in Earth's heat source - the Sun?

Today Frank Hill, associate director of the National Solar Observatorys Solar Synoptic Network, said in a news briefing (June 14):

The solar cycle may be going into a hiatus.

This is highly unusual and unexpected.

But the fact that three completely different views of the sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.

If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum well see for a few decades

That would affect everything from space exploration to Earths climate.

www.space.com/119...cle.html

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...