Exploring Greenland With Wings, Boats and Drones

The Snow on Ice project is launching into the field with two teams of scientists this summer. The first group, an ‘advance team’ of six women, will focus on lakes where meltwater has collected on the exposed southwestern flank of Greenland bedrock. In this region west of Kangerlussuaq, the ice sheet had retreated, leaving behind its history in the lake sediments and water isotopes, and the exposure history trapped in the exposed rocks.

Allison Cluett collecting data for leaf wax samples to help establish the history of Greenland’s precipitation since the beginning of the most recent ice retreat. (N. Young)

The team will spend a week at each of two different surface lake locations, camping along the edge of the lakes using a setup of small inflatable boats and a pontoon-style floating platform to core into them to retrieve the glacial history. Travel in Greenland is primarily by air and we will rely on Air Greenland’s helicopters to shuttle us to our campsites, assisting us with a relocation midway through our stay.

Drones have become an important addition to our field equipment in the last few years. From aloft, they can capture an expansive view of the wider field area. For example braided lakes that lie on the other side of a ridgeline, hidden from the camp view, come easily into focus when the drone is launched. Flattened glacially carved valleys are given scale when viewed from above, as are the series of small drainage lakes that extend from the edge of the ice sheet like a string of beads dotting the landscape.

Setup of the dual boating structure used for coring. The small zodiac in the back can push the motorless coring platform into position. The platform is then anchored with local rocks during the coring process. This image is captured via drone. (PM. Turrin)

Our team of six is a blend of science and art, and career and student. We are led by Elizabeth Thomas, assistant professor of geology at the University of Buffalo. She’s a paleoclimatologist with a focus on understanding climate over the past several hundred thousand years. We include several seasoned graduate students including Allison Cluett, who is using leaf wax proxies to reconstruct temperature and moisture balance in Western Greenland over the past ~10,000 years, and Megan Corcoran studying paleoclimatology and biogeochemistry. Our final student is Kayla Hollister, a geology undergraduate. Artist Anna McKee, with a unique artistic history of documenting the science and the majesty of the polar regions through her work, and myself joining from Lamont-Doherty will round out the team.

For more on the Snow On Ice project please check the website.

For more on Anna Mckee’s work check our her portfolio art.

Snow on Ice is an NSF funded project that is multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary. It brings together work on lake sediment cores, exposure dating of the rock, ice core data, leaf wax and water samples and sea ice history to feed new data into both regional and wider Arctic models of ice sheet history.

— Margie Turrin, Earth Institute

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