Mapping new glaciers at the Mogens Fjord and Fridtjof Glacier

The Greenland ice sheet is vast, but with each flight we are filling in another small piece in the grid of understanding this remote area of the Earth.

Posted by Indrani Das

7 AM is ‘showtime’ on the tarmac, as the crew readies the P-3, coffee is consumed, and the instruments calibrated for the day. A faulty valve on the starter in one of the four aircraft engines threatened our departure, but the efficient crew had us airborne by mid-morning.

Our survey area for today is notorious for nasty weather but fortunately we’ve caught a lull in the systems, and a benefit from the strong 50-60 kt westerly winds of the last few days – the ash cloud from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano has been dispersed from today’s survey area! Today we are focused on the lower margin the Southeast Greenland coast including mapping for the first time two glaciers at the head (start) of Mogens Fjord and Fridtjof Glacier. The southeast area of Greenland has seen large ice mass loss and acceleration of ice discharge in recent years – a synchronous thinning and accelerating of these outlet glaciers. All this signals the importance of a systematic flying of the glaciers to collect much needed information.

Each day’s flight plan is arranged to collect as much data as possible; even the transit to target areas can be used to fill in missing pieces of the ‘puzzle’. Our transit today from Kangerlussuaq allowed us to collect two East/West lines over the interior as part of a multi-year effort to complete a 10 km ‘grid’ (intersecting data lines) over all of Greenland. Data from this grid will be valuable for providing information about the ice and the rocks below it on a larger scale than the smaller regional grids that have been flown in the past. Scientists need to understand how the whole Greenland ice sheet is working and this larger collection of data lines will benefit this.

As we near the coast, mountains come into view and the ice surface below becomes increasingly crevassed and jumbled as it is forced to flow over complex topography.

In contrast with the vast, flat, and uniformly bright interior of Greenland, the breathtaking southeast coast has our faces pressed up against the few windows of the P-3, snapping photos of the snow-draped mountains and the intricate coast. Looking down, I am awed by the sea ice clinging to the rocky coastline whose hodgepodge texture reminds me of broken-up rocks formed by the grinding and milling of geologic faults. Flying low at ~1500 ft, the scale of things is incredibly deceptive, and I find myself trying to imagine how large I would be if standing on the ice amongst these features. In one photo I managed to catch the shadow of the plane, providing some scale to the region below.

The Greenland ice sheet is vast, but with each flight we are filling in another small piece in the grid of understanding this remote area of the Earth.

All photos are by Perry Spector (LDEO)

Featured photo: Snow-draped mountains and bedrock across a glaciers on the southeast side of Greenland.
Top image: Greenland coast with melt pond on top of the glacier front.
Bottom image: Hodgepodge of sea ice clinging to the rocky coastline with plane image visible.

Indrani Das is a physicist and atmospheric scientist who has spent the last two years in Alaska studying ice mass loss in the Alaskan glaciers. One area of her study was the Alaskan Wrangell Mountains where she notes the loss of ice mass almost doubled from 2000-2007 when compared to the prior 50 years. She recently moved to New York and jumps at any chance to spend time doing field work and enjoy the beauty of the Arctic glaciers.

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