Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Glacier Front Drifters Design Concept (Award# Drifters)

PI: Behar, Alberto (
Phone: (818) 687.8627 
Institute/Department: National Aeronautical and Space Administration, Jet Propulsion Laboratory 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\RSL
Program Manager: Ms. Renee Crain (
Discipline(s): | Cryosphere |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
The bathymetry of tidewater glacier fjords is a key boundary condition for models of ocean water circulation and ice flow, as well as calculations of ice discharge and mass loss. The water depth near the ice fronts of rapidly calving glaciers, such as Jakpbhavn Isbrae, is almost completely unknown due to the presence of a perennial ice mélange (floating mixture of icebergs and bergy bits), making ship - based surveys either impossible or extremely dangerous. It is precisely these glaciers, however, where water depth information is most critical. Leads or gaps in the mélange provide access to the water column, and helicopter-based CTD measurements have been successful in these areas. The mélange flows down the fjord at a speed near or exceeding the flow speed of the glacier from which it calved (e.g. ~50 m/day for Jakobshavn). Researchers therefore will use a drifting buoy system that will be embedded into the mélange as close to the ice front as possible and will record bathymetry and other parameters as it drifts with the ice, transmitting its data via satellite link.

Logistics Summary:
The PI has developed a new mobile sensor platform -- a “fjord drifter” – designed to gather information while drifting passively with the current of waterways. The drifters are equipped with a GPS, a smart sounder and either a local data logging system or a satellite modem to relay information to a ground station as they explore the environment of interest. In mid-September 2013 the PI will deploy and test fjord drifters at the Jakobshavn fjord. Based from Ilulissat, the researchers will utilize helicopter support to deploy the drifters near the terminating front of the glacier. In early August, 2014, the PI will deploy and test prototypes at the Jakobshavn fjord. Based from Ilulissat, the researchers will utilize helicopter support to deploy the drifters near the terminating front of the glacier. When he is finished with his work based from Ilulissat, the PI will fly to Kangerlussuaq and use his drifters to work with another NSF-funded PI (Larry Smith) before departing Greenland via commercial air. A second team member will fly via Air National Guard (ANG) to Kanger and join the PI in this work before departing Greenland via ANG.

CPS will provide Air National Guard coordination for cargo (schedule dependent), commercial ticketing between Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat, commercial cargo inside Greenland, lodging and a rental vehicle in Ilulissat, helicopter charters, and communications gear. All other logistics will be organized by the researcher and paid through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2013Greenland - Ilulissat09 / 13 / 2013 09 / 17 / 20132
2013Greenland - Jakobshavn Glacier09 / 15 / 2013 09 / 16 / 20132
2014Greenland - Ilulissat08 / 07 / 2014 08 / 10 / 20141
2014Greenland - Jakobshavn Glacier08 / 08 / 2014 08 / 09 / 20141
2014Greenland - Kangerlussuaq08 / 14 / 2014 08 / 22 / 20141

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