project . 2013 - 2016 . Closed

Airborne geophysical investigations of conditions at the bed of fast-flowing outlet glaciers of large Canadian Arctic ice caps

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: NE/K004999/1
Funded under: NERC Funder Contribution: 543,907 GBP
Status: Closed
01 Mar 2013 (Started) 29 Sep 2016 (Ended)

Recent work has shown that the single largest unknown in assessing the contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to contemporary global sea-level rise is the rate of mass loss by iceberg calving from large Arctic ice caps (Radic and Hock, 2011, Nature Geoscience). The largest ice caps in the Arctic, and indeed the largest ice masses outside the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, are those of the Canadian Arctic islands. Importantly, new findings indicate that, for 2004-2009, a sharp increase in the rate of mass loss also makes the Canadian Arctic Archipelago the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise outside Greenland and Antarctica (Gardner et al., 2011, Nature). Each of these large Canadian ice caps is divided into a series of drainage basins that flow into fjords via narrow, heavily crevassed fast-flowing outlet glaciers which dissect the islands' fringing mountains. A major question for scientists and policymakers is, therefore, how these ice caps will continue to react to the temperature rises that are predicted for the 21st century, noting that Atmospheric General Circulation Models predict that temperature rise will be significantly greater in the Arctic than at lower latitudes. Numerical modelling of large ice masses is constrained, however, by a lack of knowledge of the geometry and nature of the bed of these outlet glaciers. We will acquire geophysical data from ice-cap outlet glaciers draining the large ice caps on Ellesmere and Devon islands in the Canadian Arctic using an airborne ice-penetrating radar, laser altimeter, gravimeter, magnetometer and GPS instruments. We will focus on three key areas of each drainage basin: the heavily crevassed fast-flowing outlet glaciers themselves, an upper transition zone between the ice-cap interior and the narrow outlet glaciers; and the grounding zone marking the transition to floating ice tongues at the head of some Canadian High-Arctic fjords. Our scientific objectives are: (a) to determine ice-surface and subglacial-bed elevation; (b) to characterize the substrate, in particular whether it is bedrock or deformable sediment; (c) to establish the distribution of subglacial melting; (d) to reveal basal character changes at the transition zones between inland ice, outlet glaciers and the grounding zone; (e) to provide new estimates of outlet glacier calving fluxes and their variability on up to decadal timescales. This information, integrated with satellite datasets on outlet-glacier surface motion and our earlier observations of the regional-scale geometry of these ice caps, will provide fundamental boundary conditions for the numerical modelling of these ice caps and, thus, how they may respond to atmospheric and ocean warming over the coming decades, with implications for sea-level rise.

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