Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: CAREER: South Greenland's Holocene Climate History Reconstructed Using Three Paleolimnological Approaches (Award# 1454734)

PI: Axford, Yarrow L (
Phone: (847) 467.2268 
Institute/Department: Northwestern University, Earth and Planetary Sciences 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ANS
Program Manager: Dr. Cynthia Suchman (
Discipline(s): | Geological Sciences\Polar Environments | Meteorology and Climate\Paleoclimatology |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This NSF CAREER project supports a multi-pronged effort at deciphering and understanding the climate history of southern Greenland over the last eleven thousand years, and an educational effort focused on public communication of science and K-12 science literacy. Paleoclimate data provide our only empirical observations of how the arctic system responds to major sustained climate change. It is especially urgent to understand how past climate change unfolded on Greenland, because mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet will drive a large fraction of future sea level rise. Existing data from south Greenland hint that climate trends there may differ from trends observed elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere on a range of timescales, with potential consequences for future temperature change and thus for ice sheet mass balance. This research will assess the apparent divergence through the Holocene (the last 11,000 years), by developing a suite of climate reconstructions from lakes in southernmost Greenland. Climate records to be generated include quantitative temperature reconstructions based on insect (chironomid) assemblages and reconstructions of precipitation isotopes (reflecting changes in atmospheric circulation) using an emerging method based on chironomid oxygen-18. A third approach -- reconstructions of alpine glacier fluctuations using sediments from glacial threshold lakes -- will constrain local ice mass balance and help to further characterize local atmospheric climate through the Holocene, especially its influence on the ice sheet. This work will double the number of continuous, quantitative Holocene terrestrial temperature reconstructions available from Greenland beyond the ice sheet, contributing to community-wide efforts to understand how the arctic system responds to sustained climate change. Data will be incorporated into paleodata syntheses, in keeping with the PI's track record of participation in such efforts, and will allow for better tests of climate and ice sheet models. Independent reconstructions of Holocene precipitation isotopes will be used to assess whether changes in atmospheric circulation accompanied past climate change, and thus might accompany future climate change. By constraining summer temperatures and local glacier mass balance, and comparing results with glacial geologic studies, this work will help clarify the role of atmospheric climate at the ice sheet margin in driving ice sheet changes. This work will also advance two methods: It will validate and apply an emerging isotopic proxy with potential for widespread application, and the PI will lead international collaborative development of a new calibration dataset for the chironomid paleothermometer. This grant will train at least two Ph.D. students and at least five undergraduates in international polar research, and will advance the professional development of a pre-tenure geoscientist who has a demonstrated commitment to the broader impacts of her research. Multiple collaborations, including with glacial geologists and paleoecologists at five foreign institutions, will be advanced. A new seminar will train graduate students in sustainability-relevant STEM fields in skills for communicating science beyond academia, contributing to broad training of the future STEM workforce. This project will provide sustained professional development for K-12 teachers, who in turn will bring climate and energy science to Chicago-area classrooms, promoting innovative STEM education for students in one of the largest U.S. urban school districts (Chicago's District 299).

Logistics Summary:
With support from a CAREER grant, the PI aims to reconstruct climate history in Southern Greenland, using lake sediment and other samples collected during field work, to characterize to what extent climate trends in South Greenland may diverge from hemispheric trends on a range of timescales, with potential consequences for future temperature change—and thus for ice sheet mass balance. Researchers will travel to Greenland in 2016, 2018 and 2019 (there is no field work in 2017). A field team of 4 will access field sites via helicopter from Narsarsuaq and via truck from Kangerlussuaq. Generally, sampling sites are closer to the outer coast than to the ice sheet, and at relatively high elevation. A small packable raft will be used where possible for lake measurements and sampling. Sediment cores and other samples will be shipped back to the researchers’ home institutions for analysis. In 2016, a team of four will travel to Narsarsuaq, Greenland, via commercial air late in July, arriving via commercial air from Copenhagen. They will put in to their camp site by helicopter, and spend about 2 weeks collecting sediment cores from areas of interest. The team will reposition during this time, with helicopter support to facilitate resupply and the camp move. Prior to take out, the team will store gear in Narsarsuaq, and prepare their cores for shipment. Two researchers will depart for Kangerlussauq, where they will spend several days packing before departing with their sediment samples for the U.S. via the Air National Guard. (The other two researchers will continue until the end of August on another project.) In 2018, a team of five plan to return to Kangerlussuaq in mid-July via ANG with onward travel via commercial air to Narsarsuaq. Camp sites will be established by helicopter and the team will spend approximately five weeks collecting sediment cores in the field. Researchers will depart for Kangerlussuaq with their sediment samples for the U.S. via the ANG.

CPS will provide ANG coordination for passengers and cargo, including retro of samples via ANG, KISS user days, rental truck in Narsarsuaq, intra-Greenland commercial ticketing/freight, helicopter charters, lodging, and storage space in Narsarsuaq, and camp/safety equipment from CPS inventory. In 2017 only, CPS will provide storage space in Narsarsuaq (during a non-field work year of the grant). All other logistics, including commercial shipping between institute and NY, will be organized by the researcher and paid through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2016Greenland - Ammassivik Highland Lakes08 / 09 / 2016 08 / 15 / 20164
2016Greenland - Kangerlussuaq08 / 16 / 2016 08 / 19 / 20162
2016Greenland - Narsaq Highland Lakes08 / 04 / 2016 08 / 09 / 20164
2016Greenland - Narsarsuaq07 / 30 / 2016 08 / 19 / 20164
2016Greenland - Tupaussat08 / 01 / 2016 08 / 04 / 20164
2017Greenland - Narsarsuaq0
2018Greenland - Kangerlussuaq07 / 12 / 2018 08 / 15 / 20185
2018Greenland - Narsarsuaq07 / 13 / 2018 08 / 13 / 20185
2019Greenland - Kangerlussuaq07 / 15 / 2019 08 / 15 / 20194
2019Greenland - Narsarsuaq07 / 15 / 2019 08 / 15 / 20194

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Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "1454734", IPY = "ALL" 
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