Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Physical controls on ocean-terminating glacier variability in Central West Greenland (Award# 11-IDS11-33)

PI: Catania, Ginny (
Phone: (512) 471.6156 
Institute/Department: U of Texas, Austin, Institute for Geophysics 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NASA
Program Manager: Dr. Thomas Wagner (
Discipline(s): | Cryosphere |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
The sudden increase in mass loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) over the past two decades has spurred scientific scrutiny into the mechanisms causing these changes, and the varying regional response of the ice sheet. The majority of the increase in mass loss is due to the acceleration of marine-terminating outlet glaciers. Until recently, marine-terminating glaciers have been examined mostly from an ice-sheet perspective with little regard to the specific ocean processes that may control rates of calving and submarine melt. The outlet glaciers of central west Greenland exhibit temporal and spatial variability in their velocity response averaged over multiple years; in several cases, glaciers that are adjacent to one another exhibit very different dynamic responses. To address this growing need for better understanding of ice-ocean interactions, this research objective is to examine the forcing mechanisms on outlet glaciers in central west Greenland in order to understand their observed variability in speed (and mass loss) over time and space. The approach is holistic in that researchers will examine atmospheric, oceanic and geometric controls on outlet glaciers in order to elucidate the role that the oceans play in regulating Greenland mass loss. The methodology will be a combination of field and remote-sensing data, with particular emphasis on NASA’s IceBridge survey across this region, to determine how these glaciers (and their forcing mechanisms) have changed over time. The field program is aimed at measuring glacier and ocean properties in two adjacent fjords where outlet glaciers exhibit differing velocity changes. Finally, observations will be used in ice, ocean and coupled numerical models to determine the particular processes that control glacier variability for these two glaciers. Model efforts will then be used along with the remote-sensing database to upscale field observations to the entire region in order to test the validity of using remote-sensing observations (such as SST) to understand ice sheet variability and to determine which measurements (and at what resolution) need to be acquired to improve GIS mass balance predictions. The key impact of this work will be identifying the specific processes controlling GIS mass variability, measurements needed (field and/or remote-sensing) for improved mass balance prediction and improving estimates of mass loss from this sensitive region of Greenland.

Logistics Summary:
With this project, researchers aim to understand physical controls on the mass balance of marine-terminating outlet glaciers in Central West Greenland. They have identified a region of the Greenland Ice Sheet where adjacent marine-terminating glaciers exhibit contrasting temporal changes in ice speed, terminus position, mélange properties and mass flux. Multiple years of detailed in-situ ice, ocean and atmospheric measurements will be obtained to help interpret the ongoing remote- and direct-sensed data collected through NASA's Operation IceBridge campaign. With the help of coupled numerical models to refine interpretation, these data will be used to identify the processes that control individual glacier variability. From 2013-2015, researchers will visit Greenland to collect data in three general phases involving small boat work, ice/glacier work, and large vessel work. Each year, a total of about 15 researchers will conduct glacier-based work out of Uummannaq and sea-based fieldwork out of Ilulissat and Uummannaq. In 2013, the small boat team of three will begin work in mid-July, travelling via the ANG to Kangerlussuaq, and then via commercial air to Ilulissat. Based there, they will spend several days preparing, and then will embark the boat for a ~six-day cruise from Ilulissat to Uummannaq, using multi-beam to survey the ocean floor in the fjords en route; the bathymetric data will create more accurate fjord depths so moorings can be properly placed and anchored. One researcher will debark in Uummannaq to prepare for further work there. The remaining researchers will cruise back to Ilulissat and spend several days in close-out activities before returning to Kangerlussuaq to travel homeward via the ANG. A second team of five will transit through Ilulissat en route to Uummannaq. This glaciology team will use a helicopter charter for day trips to deploy GPS units along glacier flow trajectories. (The field team will return the following season to maintain the instruments and download data.) In all, the glaciology team will spend about two weeks in the field before returning to Kangerlussuaq and flying home via the ANG. In September, an eight-person sea-based field team will spend approximately 10 days onboard the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources’ vessel, the R/V Sanna, based out of Uummannaq. They will spend about 5 days in each fjord studying two outlet glaciers: Rink Isbrae (RI) and Kangerdlugssup Sermerssua (KS). As the work falls outside of the ANG Greenland schedule, the team will travel to and from Greenland via commercial air. In 2014, researchers will return to maintain the instruments and download the data. One team will travel via ANG to Kangerlussuaq, and after a few days of preparations, onward via commercial air to Uummannaq. They will spend several days in the community preparing for helicopter-supported day trips to instrument sites. The helicopter will position from Ilulissat, for which a fuel cache will have been placed at the main landing site prior to the field season. After several days of trips, the team will be dropped off to camp to finish the work. In all, the glaciology team will spend about 10 days in Uummannaq before being pulled from the field, packing up and returning to the U.S. via Iceland. A second team will arrive in Uummannaq about the same time the glacier team begins to camp. The field coordinator will position in the community to assist with glacier team close-out and vessel team on-load. The vessel team will board the R/V Saana, operated by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (GINR), and steam for Ilulissat, conducting research in two outlet glaciers (Rink Isbrae (RI) and Kangerdlugssup Sermerssua (KS) en route. The vessel team will spend about three weeks in all--a little over a week in each fjord – en route to Ilulissat. As the work falls outside of the ANG Greenland schedule, the vessel team will travel to and from Greenland via commercial air. The 2015 season will be the final year of the grant. In mid-July, the boat team will conduct a brief hydrographic and velocity ship-based survey aboard the R/V Sanna as well as recover the moorings and on-ice instrumentation near the two outlet glaciers: Rink Isbrae (RI) and Kangerdlugssup Sermerssua (KS). In early Sept, the glacier team will arrive in Greenland via the C-17 from NY where they will then fly to UMD via AirGL commercial aircraft. A Bell 212 helicopter will position itself from Ilulissat to support the glacier team as they conduct the break-down and removal of their instrumentation located on the surrounding glaciers. They will perform day-trips as well as camp at one of the sites.

CPS will provide Air National Guard (ANG) coordination for pax and cargo, KISS user days in Kangerlussuaq, lodging in Ilulissat & Uummannaq, rental trucks and local support in Uummannaq (UMD), Air Greenland commercial travel (for glacier team only) & cargo shipments, helicopter support to include a purchase of drums of JET-A fuel and shipment to Nuugaatsiaq, container rental at the UMD Heli-port, CPS field coordinator assistance, and safety/communications gear. NASA will reimburse the NSF via interagency funds transfer. PASSCAL support for the use of seismometers will continue for the final season of the project. All other support will be arranged by the PI and paid from the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2013Greenland - Ilulissat08 / 02 / 2013 09 / 15 / 20134
2013Greenland - Kangerlussuaq07 / 15 / 2013 09 / 15 / 20137
2013Greenland - Uummannaq07 / 28 / 2013 09 / 23 / 201311
2014Greenland - Kangerlussuaq07 / 14 / 2014 08 / 06 / 20145
2014Greenland - Uummannaq07 / 16 / 2014 08 / 15 / 201415
2015Greenland - Ilulissat07 / 24 / 2015 09 / 03 / 201511
2015Greenland - Kangerlussuaq07 / 13 / 2015 09 / 26 / 201511
2015Greenland - Uummannaq07 / 15 / 2015 09 / 21 / 201511

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