Following the Ice — And onto the next field season

Author: Benjamin Linhoff

Re-posted by permission of the author.

Follow Ben’s journey this field season on Twitter and Facebook.

Originally posted for Following The Ice on March 15, 2012. Originally posted here.

One night last summer, I rose from my bed, left my tent and walked to the river. It was well past midnight, a full moon has risen over the glacier and in the twilight of the arctic summer night, I could make out a herd of musk ox grazing nearby. My hair had gotten long, my beard now changed the shape of my face, and my clothes were soaked in dirt, sewn and patched. A few steps from the riverbank, I slung a climbing rope around my waist and checked the knot at other end secured to a boulder. Then with one hand on the rope and sampling bottles in the other, I eased my way down the steep riverbank to the water’s edge. As I approached the river the air became frigid and I could see car-sized icebergs bumping through rapids. Over the roar of the water I could feel and hear the thunder of boulders bouncing along the river bottom. I had long ago given up wearing waterproof gloves to sample the 32ºF water and so I plunged my hand in and waited for the first bottle to fill. Back in my tent, I tied my bandanna around my eyes and fell back to sleep. It was my 100thday in camp.

This year’s field season will bring new adventures, challenges and scientific perspectives about the dynamic and ever changing Greenland Ice Sheet. It will be my second time to Greenland, second year blogging about it, and in a strange way, I’m looking forward to it. Our small team of scientists will be studying the profound impact glacial meltwater has on glacial acceleration. Broadly, our goal is to determine how the massive Greenland Ice Sheet is responding to the changing climate.

Ice melts when things warm up. Over the last century, burring fossils fuels has rapidly increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations to levels the Earth has not seen for millions of years. In the last 150 years alone, CO2 concentrations have risen about 40% higher than the highest CO2 concentrations ever experienced by the Greenland Ice Sheet.  As CO2 levels have risen, the Earth’s climate system has been disturbed and the world’s average temperatures have warmed. In Greenland glaciers are sliding faster, moving massive quantities of ice from the cold high altitudes of the ~10,000 foot thick ice sheet to the warm subtropical ocean currents that brush up against east Greenland, and to the gentler climate in the west and south. The melting ice is raising global sea level, fertilizing the North Atlantic, and may even be changing ocean currents.

My plan while in camp is to update this blog about once a week for the twelve weeks I will be in Greenland (May 10th-August 1st). Like last year, posts will be flown out of camp on stick drives whenever helicopters transport gear and people to and from our camp. Because of bad weather and mechanical problems with helicopters, I can’t promise the posts will make it out of camp every week so occasionally several posts will be entered at once after a break.

Check out the video below. It shows a time lapse of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet as observed by a NASA satellite. The video is cool because it clearly shows ice growing in the winter and decreasing in the summer. Every year since NASA began monitoring ice loss in Greenland, there has been a net loss of ice.

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