Investigating basal conditions and flow dynamics on Vestfonna Ice Cap, Svalbard

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Scott Polar Research Institute

Abstract

The body of scientific evidence for significant anthropogenic impacts on the global climate is growing and public concern underscores a need for better assessments of contemporary environmental changes in regions such as the Arctic. Although the vast majority of ice on Earth is stored in Greenland and Antarctica, it is important to keep in mind that 70% of the cryospheric contribution to 20th century sea-level rise was attributed to the retreat of mountain glaciers and ice caps. Arctic ice masses are an important component of global change, especially as Arctic temperatures are increasing at almost twice the global average. This project focuses on Vestfonna Ice Cap in northeast Svalbard. This Arctic ice cap is of particular interest because its northern ice margin terminates on land while the southern margin contains a series of tidewater outlet glaciers, comparable to those draining the Greenland Ice Sheet. Airborne radio-echo sounding data collected in 1983 and 1986 by Scott Polar Research Institute showed that the volume of Vestfonna Ice Cap was about 500 km3. Aerial photographs and satellite imagery subsequently showed that flow speeds on the southern tidewater glaciers were several hundred metres per year. This was an order of magnitude faster than the surrounding ice and more than double the calculated balance velocities. It was suggested that this negative state of mass balance was a result of short-lived glacier surges. However, the interior ice plateau on Vestfonna Ice Cap is today experiencing widespread progressive thinning, either as a result of changing regional climate dynamics or enhanced discharge from outlet glaciers. This project proposes glaciological investigations on Vestfonna Ice Cap with the aim to quantify the link between climate dynamics and ice flow. The proposed investigations include the collection of radio-echo sounding data in a traverse across the ice cap and in two designated study areas, one on the northern ice margin and one on a southern tidewater glacier. The radar data provide a means to measure ice thickness and examine the nature of the bed, e.g. the distribution of melting and freezing and the presence of water, which serves as a lubricant. We will install two digital cameras near the terminus of Frazerbreen, which is a tidewater glacier, so that we can monitor the position of its calving ice front. A total of six GPS receivers will be installed on the ice to monitor horizontal and vertical motion on a sub-hourly timescale during an 18-month period. By combining GPS data with digital time-lapsed imagery, and output from an automatic weather station, we will be able to understand how forces are balanced in the ice cap and this will enable us to examine how the ice mass behaves under different climatic and oceanographic conditions. With the application of a 3D numerical ice-flow model, we will be able to study the response of the ice cap to global warming and predict its contribution to sea level change.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This project is the first to fully establish ice thickness and bed topography of Vestfonna Ice Cap on the remote and secluded northeastern islands of Svalbard. The project was also the first to install GPS receivers on the ice cap's fast-flowing outlet glaciers, and thereby obtain records of ice flow in high temporal resolution over the course of a year.

The topographic datasets produced in this project were, after their official publication, used as boundary conditions for a 3-dimensional, Full Stokes ice-flow model of Vestfonna Ice Cap. Numerical modelling included inversions of surface velocity maps produced by satellite remote sensing, and these inversions provided crucial new insight to the basal conditions of the ice cap.
Exploitation Route Discoveries made in this project are of public interest, as there have been only very few previous attempts to observe Vestfonna Ice Cap and its fast-flowing outlet glaciers. Before this project was funded, there were only half a dozen articles about Vestfonna Ice Cap in the peer-reviewed literature. With the outcomes from this project and those by collaborators in IPY-Kinnvika, this body has now grown to more than 20 articles.

This project has also established new and complete datasets for the ice cap's thickness and basal topography . These new data were instrumental in setting up and developing a state-of-the-art ice flow model, with outcomes explaining why the flow of ice in outlet glaciers is fast. The datasets are freely available to all potential users.
Sectors Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.kinnvika.net/
 
Description The research was featured in a coffee table book under the title: 'Kinnvika 80N'. The publisher was the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland, and the pubilcation was financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers. ISBN 978-952-5969-34-4.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title Bed topography of Vestfonna Ice Cap 
Description The first complete bed topography dataset for Vestfonna Ice Cap was produced in this project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset has significantly improved simulation of ice flow in numerical models of Vestfonna Ice Cap. 
URL http://gcmd.gsfc.nasa.gov/
 
Title Flow of Vestfonna Ice Cap 
Description The first complete map of surface velocity on Vestfonna Ice Cap was released in this project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset is very useful for the initialisation of numerical models of the flow of Vestfonna Ice Cap 
URL http://gcmd.gsfc.nasa.gov/
 
Title Ice thickness of Vestfonna Ice Cap 
Description The first complete ice thickness dataset for Vestfonna Ice Cap was produced in this project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset has significantly improved simulation of ice flow in numerical models of Vestfonna Ice Cap. 
URL http://gcmd.gsfc.nasa.gov/
 
Description Kinnvika IPY 
Organisation CSC – IT Centre for Science
Country Finland 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This project secured international collaboration during the International Polar Year (2007-2009), with Prof. Veijo Pohjola and Dr. Rickard Pettersson at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. The collaboration secured funding for research from the Swedish National Research Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers, in addition to the grant awarded to Dr. Christoffersen by the NERC.
Collaborator Contribution Direct contributions to this project from Swedish collaborators include helicopter transportation for a team of three people to/from Vestfonna Ice Cap from/to Longyearbyen on Svalbard in 2008 as well as 2009. The collaboration also included use of the Kinnvika fieldstation free of charge.
Impact This collaboration has produced co-authorship on three peer-reviewed journal articles and has also resulted in the publication of a book describing the nature of the collaboration.
Start Year 2008
 
Description Kinnvika IPY 
Organisation Uppsala University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project secured international collaboration during the International Polar Year (2007-2009), with Prof. Veijo Pohjola and Dr. Rickard Pettersson at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. The collaboration secured funding for research from the Swedish National Research Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers, in addition to the grant awarded to Dr. Christoffersen by the NERC.
Collaborator Contribution Direct contributions to this project from Swedish collaborators include helicopter transportation for a team of three people to/from Vestfonna Ice Cap from/to Longyearbyen on Svalbard in 2008 as well as 2009. The collaboration also included use of the Kinnvika fieldstation free of charge.
Impact This collaboration has produced co-authorship on three peer-reviewed journal articles and has also resulted in the publication of a book describing the nature of the collaboration.
Start Year 2008
 
Description Science talks for students taking A-levels 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact As a part of the 'Research Cambridge' summer school, A-level students from Singapore visited the Scott Polar Research Institute, to hear about research in polar regions. The visit (2 hours) included human as well as physical science talks and a tour of the institute.

The talks were unique in that the students from Singapore had very little direct knowledge of the polar regions. The talks stimulated a lot of questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010
URL https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/groupvisits/
 
Description e-displays for the Polar Museum in Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Science e-displays are available for all visitors of the Polar Museum. The displays are based on research projects and include results from numerical ice sheet modelling, modelling of permafrost as well as fieldwork in the polar regions.

The Polar Museum is visited by 40,000+ people per year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2017