What Are They Doing?
The research team, which included undergraduate geoscience students participating in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, traveled to Svalbard, Norway, to investigate how climate change affects sediment transport and deposition associated with the tidewater glaciers, icebergs, meltwater streams, and marine currents. Tidewater glaciers are among the fastest changing systems in the Arctic, offering the team the opportunity to monitor rapidly changing and dynamic systems.
The research team sampled glacier and iceberg ice for debris concentrations and performed CTD casts to define where the sediment from the glacier was being transported and deposited. Glacial sediments deposited on the bottom of the fiord were collected to identify the structures forming on the fjord floor and their relation to observed glacial processes. Bathymetric maps of the seafloor were obtained by using a small sub-bottom profiler and established baseline data allowing researchers to determine the rate of sediment infilling of the fjord by the glaciers. The team also utilized aerial photographs and GPS mapping to determine the position of the glacier as well as its rate of retreat compared to 2005 data. Using this data, the team determined if relationships can be derived between sedimentation, meteorological, glaciological, and oceanic variables that allow for the historic sedimentation record to be better interpreted.
The Svalbard archipelago has been marked by the retreat of glaciers, reductions in sea ice, and measurable warming throughout the Holocene period, and more specifically during the past 90 years. The region is an ideal location for this study because it has preserved the geologic records of climate change since the last ice age and into the 20th century. The Arctic is particularly sensitive to climate change and climatically induced environmental changes in this region can instigate further changes of global consequences. Melting glacial systems and their contribution to sea level rise will have consequences on shorelines globally.
Where Are They?
For this project, the team flew to Spitsbergen, an island of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean located between Norway and the North Pole. They stayed in a permanent settlement and worked out of a field station and marine laboratory on Svalbard called Ny Ålesund (78° 55´ N, 11° 56´ E). From there, the team traveled by small boat to reach the tidewater glaciers and fjords in Kongsfjord, home to one of the most rapidly calving glaciers on Svalbard.
Ross Powell has been a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences at Northern Illinois University since the early 1980's. His main research interests focus on processes where glaciers and ice sheets enter the sea, and his recent research has focused on Alaskan and Antarctic glacimarine processes and paleoclimate history involving underwater remotely-operated vehicles (ROV's) among other scientific tools. He has played a lead role in the ANDRILL (Antarctic geological Drilling) Program and the WISSARD program, collecting sediment cores for the first time from a subglacial lake in Antarctica—Lake Whillans. He has mentored teachers in polar field research through the Cape Roberts and ANDRILL programs in Antarctica and the Svalbard REU program in the Arctic. He is also periodically a guest lecturer at the University Center (UNIS) on Svalbard.
Dr. Brigham-Grette's research interests are focused on the stratigraphy, sedimentology, and chronology of geologic systems that record the climate evolution and sea level history of the Arctic since the Pliocene. Most of her research program is aimed at documenting the global context of paleoenvironmental change across "Beringia", i.e., the Bering Land Bridge, stretching across the western Arctic from Alaska and the Yukon into NE Russia including the adjacent marginal seas. Starting in the 1980s with fieldwork on the sea level history and glacial stratigraphy of vast Arctic coastal plains and coastal environments in comparison with regional alpine glaciation, she is now focused on the integration of records from marine and lake systems.
Since 1991, her group has participated in numerous field expeditions to remote regions of Arctic Russia and she was co-chief scientist in 2002 of an expedition on the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, taking sediment cores from the Bering and Chukchi Seas. She is the US Chief Scientist of the El'gygytgyn Lake Scientific Drilling project, a multinational field program leading to the first unprecedented recovery in 2009 of a 3.6 Myr record of terrestrial paleoclimate. She has previously been involved in the IPY STEM Polar Connections project to integrate the study of polar regions and International Polar Year activities into the middle and high school curriculum from the terrestrial Arctic.