Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: MRI: Development of a Thermal Melt Probe System for Extensive, Low-Cost Instrument Deployment at the Bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet (Award# 1228477)

PI: Winebrenner, Dale P (
Phone: (206) 543.1393 
Institute/Department: U of Washington, Polar Science Center 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\MRI
Program Manager: Dr. Henrietta Edmonds ( )
Discipline(s): | Instrument Development |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
The aim of this MRI project is to develop a low-cost instrumentation package for studying the hydrologic system at the bases of glaciers and ice sheets. Estimating future contributions of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) to sea level rise depends critically on a quantitative understanding of dynamic subglacial hydrology. Pressurized water in subglacial hydrological networks strongly modulates sliding of the ice sheet over its bed, even as those networks evolve in response to input rates and quantities of surface melt water, on a wide range of scales in time and space. The pressure of water beneath the ice sheet is thus the single most important dynamic and diagnostic variable in the system. Despite this importance there are presently very few field measurements of pressure (or any other subglacial variable) beneath ice sheets, because of the practical limitations of existing methods. Existing ice drilling and coring rigs capable of reaching those depths comprise tons of equipment and fuel, and are operated by crews of several or more people. Without dramatically increasing their logistics loads, many projects are therefore unable to acquire measurements of basal water pressure, despite direct relevance of such data to their investigations. The investigators will develop thermal melt probes, that would melt their way autonomously down through the ice at speeds of meters per hour. Advances in miniaturized instrumentation, solid-state power-control electronics, and high-voltage cabling now enable reliable, robust and sophisticated measurements of basal water pressure and other variables with small, logistically light melt probes. The project is based on a subscale prototype that has been built and tested in sea ice and a mountain glacier. The investigators will commission the new system by emplacing at least one probe beneath 600-1000 m of ice in western Greenland and acquiring basal water pressure data to serve as a proof-of-concept for a wide range of further proposals. Undergraduate and graduate students will be trained in the course of this project.

Logistics Summary:
This project’s researchers will fabricate and test a thermal melt probe – the “ice diver” – designed for taking subglacial measurements. During two years of field work, the team will work with PI Sarah Das (NSF grant 1023364) to deploy/test the probe in melt lakes on the Greenland ice sheet. In July 2013, a field team of 2 will travel to Greenland along with the Das research team via the ANG logistics chain to Kangerlussuaq, and from there via a commercial flight to Ilulissat. They will spend a couple days preparing for their fieldwork and then will fly via helicopter and spend about one week testing their probe near the Das camp site close to North Lake, a supra-glacial lake that Das has studied since 2009. The pair will be taken out of the field to Ilulissat via helicopter, and return to the U.S. via commercial air routed through Iceland. In 2014, after performing any necessary modifications to the probe, the 4-person field team will return for an 8- day deployment to retest the thermal melt probe at the same site near the ablation zone east of Ilulissat. The project will add a new grad student and a seasoned field engineer who designed and built much of the Ice Diver probe electronics. These additional personnel will assist with the field work and learn more about performing the overall training of the Ice Diver during field operations. This will allow more flexibility in future collaborations with other science groups.

CPS will provide ANG coordination, KISS user days, intra-Greenland commercial cargo and airfare, lodging, a rental vehicle, helicopter air charters, CPS staff assistance in Ilulissat, safety and communications gear, field gear/equipment, and fuel. All other logistics will be organized by the researchers and paid through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2013Greenland - Ilulissat07 / 10 / 2013 07 / 22 / 20132
2013Greenland - Kangerlussuaq07 / 09 / 2013 07 / 10 / 20132
2013Greenland - North Lake07 / 12 / 2013 07 / 20 / 20132
2014Greenland - Ilulissat07 / 10 / 2014 07 / 22 / 20144
2014Greenland - Kangerlussuaq07 / 09 / 2014 07 / 10 / 20144
2014Greenland - North Lake07 / 12 / 2014 07 / 20 / 20144

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Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "1228477", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1