Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Collaborative Research: IPY: Dynamic Controls on Tidewater Glacier Retreat (Award# 0732726)

PI: Pfeffer, W. Tad (
Phone: (303) 492.3480 
Institute/Department: U of Colorado, Boulder, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research 
IPY Project? YES
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ANS
Program Manager: Dr. William Wiseman (
Discipline(s): | Geological Sciences\Glaciology |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This grant funds studies of both ongoing and historical changes in dynamics at the rapidly retreating Columbia Glacier, in southcentral coastal Alaska. Tidewater glaciers (TWGs) like Columbia Glacier terminate in the ocean and merit special attention because they exhibit some of the largest and strongly non-linear dynamic volume changes of all glaciers worldwide. In addition, most ice sheet mass loss occurs at marine-ending outlet glaciers that display dynamic instabilities very similar to TWG. Yet, the response of these glaciers to climate forcing remains very poorly understood. With this grant, the researchers will continue an unmatched 30-year record of observations at Columbia Glacier and will study the similarities between it and the rapidly retreating Greenland outlet glaciers. Project goals are aimed at a predictive capability for future TWG volume changes, which are a dominant constituent of global sea-level rise. A variety of measurements including vertical aerial photogrammetry (and subsequent feature-tracking), terrestrial time-lapse photogrammetry, airborne radar, GPS surveying, and meteorological monitoring will provide robust constraints for both inverse and forward modeling of the stress and flow fields. The need for a better understanding of the interaction between climate forcing, glacier dynamics and ice volume change is widely recognized and has led to recommendations for better glacier observations. Both the SEARCH Implementation Plan and GLACIODYN list Columbia Glacier specifically as a key glaciological site. The proposed work is strongly aligned with the goals of GLACIODYN, and has been endorsed by the steering committee. Broader impacts. Because of their large numbers, small glaciers still dominate the cryosphere’s contribution to global sea level rise. The largest uncertainties in this contribution are from TWG where volume changes are controlled by unmeasured and poorly understood dynamical processes. Outreach will occur through channels offered by INSTAAR and National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), local outreach activities conducted by the PI’s in Valdez, AK, and University of Washington. Data will be provided to the GLACIODYN outreach coordinator, who will use Virtual Globe technology for project visualization. Results will appear in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at national and international meetings, and small workshops focusing on software and algorithm development, and will be archived at NSIDC and UNAVCO.

Logistics Summary:
With this IPY collaboration, Pfeffer (0732726, CU) and Conway (0732739 UW) will continue a 30-year, photogrammetrical study of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, a tidewater glacier that has been retreating rapidly since the 1980s. In addition to the historic measurements, the team will add airborne radar bed profiling, time-lapse photography, and GPS to help bolster scientists’ understanding of tidewater dynamics. The researchers will visit the glacier from 2008 – 2010 for the field work. In spring 2008, a team of two will base at Chitna and conduct ice thickness measurements using Twin Otter flights instrumented with ground-penetrating radar. About the same time, a team of 2 – 4 will base from Valdez and visit the research site via helicopter to do required installation/servicing of ground-based time-lapse cameras, and campaign-style GPS measurements. A National Geographic/NOVA team will accompany the researchers on the June 2008 trip. In May and August 2009, a team of 2 will base from Valdez and visit the research site via helicopter day trips to do work the same as that of 2008. In 2010, the field team of 5-6 will return to Valdez in mid-May, and travel from there by helicopter to put in to Columbia Glacier. They will establish a base camp, and service and relocate time-lapse cameras, a seismometer and a weather station. About a week later, three researchers will reposition to the upper glacier by helicopter to conduct a mass balance survey. When this work is finished, the entire team and all equipment will be taken out of the field by helicopter and returned to Valdez for onward travel home. The team will return in mid-August for similar operations on the glacier. This project includes collaborations with scientists working under the European IPY initiative GLACIODYN. The investigators include an exchange component in this research: in 2009, they will travel to Svalbard, Norway, to visit a research site studied by the GLACIODYN collaborators, who will, in turn, visit their American colleagues at Columbia Glacier.

For each year of the grant, CPS will provide helicopter support, a generator and satellite phone. All other logistics will be arranged by the PI and paid from the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2008Alaska - Columbia Glacier06 / 14 / 2008 06 / 21 / 20082
2009Alaska - Columbia Glacier05 / 07 / 2009 05 / 13 / 20092
2010Alaska - Columbia Glacier05 / 10 / 2010 08 / 22 / 20106

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Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "0732726", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1