Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Collaborative Research: The Greenland Firn Aquifer Impacts on Ice Sheet Hydrology: Characterizing Volume, Flow, and Discharge (Award# 1417987)

PI: Forster, Richard (Rick) R (
Phone: (801) 581.3611 
Institute/Department: U of Utah, Department of Geography 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ANS
Program Manager: Dr. Marc Stieglitz ( )
Discipline(s): | Cryosphere |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This project will follow up on the serendipitous recent discovery that liquid water is present year-round within the firn layer of the southern Greenland Ice Sheet. This discovery complicates understanding of the relationship of surface melting on the ice sheet to sea level rise by revealing another pathway for meltwater to take. Even the most fundamental questions about the firn aquifer remain unanswered. This project will address three essential research questions: 1. What are the pathways and connections of the firn aquifer with the broader Greenland hydrologic system and what is the aquifer's effect on sea level rise? 2. What is the mass/volume of the liquid water stored in the Greenland firn aquifer? 3. What are the rates and patterns of water flow in the aquifer? These questions will be addressed using standard groundwater sampling techniques, seismic sounding, nuclear magnetic resonance, and ice core measurements. This research will advance knowledge of the Greenland firn aquifer guided by two end member hypotheses that present possible pathways for this stored water to exit the aquifer. 1: The aquifer is connected to a well-developed englacial hydrologic network, including crevasses and moulins, that drain some portion of the aquifer at a relatively constant rate (seasonally) to the bed, similar to surface melt in western Greenland. or 2: The aquifer is primarily storing water in available firn pore space and will not release water until the pore space is completely saturated and/or a threshold is met leading to a release event. It is likely that some proportion of each mechanism is relevant depending upon location on the ice sheet. The field studies along with local and regional modeling studies focused along an elevation gradient of an ice flow line into Helheim Glacier are aimed at determining the relative contribution of each pathway. This knowledge is required to accurately measure and predict the Greenland ice sheet’s present and future contribution to sea level rise. Additionally this research verifies ground hydrology and seismic techniques for measuring englacial water volume and flow providing new multi-disciplinary techniques for future research.

Logistics Summary:
This collaboration between Forster (1417987, U of Utah) and Schmerr (1417993, Univ of Maryland) builds on earlier work funded by NSF grant 1311655. The research will advance knowledge of the Greenland firn aquifer and help further understanding of the Greenland ice sheet’s potential impact on sea level rise. Researchers will analyze information collected using standard groundwater sampling techniques, seismic sounding, nuclear magnetic resonance, ice core measurements, and computer modeling. From 2015 to 2016, researchers will visit the island to work along the southeastern edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet near Kulusuk. Gear will be transported to Kulusuk on LC-130 and then via helicopter from Kulusuk to the ice sheet. Transport on the ice sheet will be via snowmobile. The first field campaign, in April 2015, will involve eight team members in an effort lasting about 25 days. After putting in to their field site and establishing a tent camp, the team will drill four firn cores along an elevation gradient through the firn aquifer. The boreholes will be instrumented with thermistor strings and pressure transducers and left in place to make measurements until spring of 2016. The researchers will also measure water volume with a Magnetic Resonance Sounding (MRS) platform, perform radar monitoring, and obtain seismic imaging of the water table. Later, in July/August, a team of five will return to continue MRS, radar, and seismic sampling. Thermistors will be serviced as needed. The final field campaign will take place in 2016. In late July/early August, four to five field team members will continue radar monitoring and service the thermistor strings as needed. The instruments will stay in place through the summer of 2017, with no particpant travel to Greenland. The instruments will the be removed with the assistance of a colleague that will be in Greenland on a different project (details TBD).

CPS will provide Air National Guard coordination for transport of people and cargo, including dedicated C-130 flights between Kangerlussuaq and Kulusuk; KISS user days; lodging in Kulusuk; helo support out of Kulusuk; fuel; snowmachines; and camp/safety gear. IDDO will provide a drill system and one driller (2015 only). UNAVCO will provide GPS support. IRIS/PASSCAL will provide training and instrumentation. All other logistics will be organized by the researchers and paid through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2015Greenland - Forster Camp 104 / 10 / 2015 08 / 14 / 20158
2015Greenland - Forster Camp 204 / 06 / 2015 08 / 14 / 20158
2015Greenland - Forster Camp 304 / 15 / 2015 08 / 14 / 20158
2015Greenland - Forster Camp 404 / 18 / 2015 08 / 14 / 20158
2015Greenland - Kangerlussuaq03 / 27 / 2015 03 / 29 / 20156
2015Greenland - Kulusuk03 / 29 / 2015 08 / 14 / 20158
2016Greenland - Forster Camp 107 / 20 / 2016 08 / 10 / 20166
2016Greenland - Forster Camp 207 / 20 / 2016 08 / 10 / 20166
2016Greenland - Forster Camp 307 / 20 / 2016 08 / 10 / 20166
2016Greenland - Forster Camp 407 / 20 / 2016 08 / 10 / 20166
2016Greenland - Kulusuk07 / 16 / 2016 08 / 14 / 20166
2017Greenland - Forster Camp 10
2017Greenland - Forster Camp 20
2017Greenland - Forster Camp 30
2017Greenland - Forster Camp 40

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