Flow Studies on an Antarctic Glacier

What Are They Doing?

Glaciers are like moving rivers of ice, and their rate of movement can vary depending on many factors including friction, the slope of underlying bedrock, and climate. Byrd Glacier is unique because it goes through large changes in its speed in response to two subglacial lakes, lakes that remain unfrozen underneath the glacier, which drain periodically. This project was designed to study the changes in glacier behavior on timescales from minutes to years by closely monitoring Byrd Glacier for the following 2.5 years.

To do this, the research team installed about 30 GPS units on Byrd Glacier. Some of the sensors remained on the glacier during just the 2010-2011-research season (November – February) and some stayed out there and took recordings all year long. The data collected from different parts of the glacier provided a continuous record of horizontal and vertical motions over a 26-month time period.

The results of the study were used in conjunction with a longer record of remote sensing observations. The combined datasets were used to check a numerical model of the glacier’s flow dynamics, or changes in rates of movement. The modeling efforts were applied to other East Antarctic outlet glaciers so that scientists could develop a better understanding of glacier behavior in Antarctica.

The research team made two trips to Antarctica as part of the same project, first from 8-25 November 2010 and later in the field season from 29 January - 12 February 2011.

Where Are They?

The research team was based at McMurdo Station, and traveled daily by helicopter to the research site on Byrd Glacier, about 250 miles (400 km) from the station. Byrd Glacier is one of Earth’s largest glaciers, starting in East Antarctica and flowing through the Transantarctic Mountains and into the Ross Ice Shelf. It is about 84 miles (136 km) long and about 15 miles (24 km) wide – an area greater than most U.S. cities!

Expedition Map

Journals

The morning started with a 4:40am wake-up call! After driving around town in the Super Shuttle picking up other passengers headed to the ice, we arrived that the CDC to change clothes into our ECW gear and get our luggage put on the plane. After receiving our boarding pass, it was time for a nice hot cup of coffee to get us ready for the 5-hour flight south. Now for a play-by-play. . . A trip on a C-17 Globemaster III is something not very many people get to do in their lifetime, especially flying in one to Antarctica. So let’s see if I add details to the imagination. . . You are in a plane...
Some of us are home, so of us are on the way home. With various weather delays last week, our flights to the ice sites at the top of Byrd Glacier above two subglacial lakes were canceled three days in a row. And with the overcrowding currently at McMurdo, it was decided that half our team would head back to the states, while the other half would stay through the weekend and try once more to get out on the Twin Otter. Mike, Kristin and Brandon began the long northward trek while Peter, Leigh and Gordon all stayed behind. The plan was to place the three remaining summer ice sites near the...
Ice Cave
We've had two more days of canceled flights to complete our work. The only remaining units we have left to deploy are two summer ice sites and the end of the glacier on the Ross Ice Shelf, and two winter-over ice sites in the catchment basin at the top of the glacier above two subglacial lakes. Station is quite overcrowded at the moment so three of us are actually headed north this afternoon/evening (weather permitting). The other three will remain in McMurdo in the hopes of finishing our deployment before they begin their trek north next Wednesday. All in all this has been a very...
We flew our third and likely final heli day yesterday. We installed three winter-over ice sites and an additional four summer ice sites. That brings our grand total so far to 27 GPS sites! We are slated to fly on the Twin Otter this morning to install our final two winter-over ice sites on two subglacial lakes on the upper plateau of The Byrd. Right now we are holding for weather clearance. More pictures posted soon!
Passing Time
We’re flying! OK, not at the moment, but we’ve been flying the past 2 days! I can attempt to describe the process; however, I think pictures will do the most justice in this case. The team headed out to the heli of our first day of flying, Nov. 18. Photo credit: Brandon Gillette We begin our flying days with two helicopters and an hour and thirty minute ride out to the Roadend fuel cache Kristin and I visited nearly a week ago. Here we load up as much equipment as can fit into the heli while the pilot and heli tech are refueling. Then it’s another 15-40 minutes to our landing sites,...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates:
29 January 2011 to 14 February 2011
Location: McMurdo Station
Project Funded Title: Byrd Glacier Flow Dynamics

Meet the Team

Brandon Gillette's picture
University of Kansas and the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS)
Lawrence, KS
United States

Brandon Gillette completed his undergraduate work at the University of Kansas in 2004 and his Masters of Education in 2006. For the past five years, he has taught junior high school and high school science in Olathe, Kansas. Mr. Gillette first worked with CReSIS in 2007-2008 as part of the PolarTREC program, partnering with scientists to spend five weeks in Antarctica as part of the [Antarctica Ice Sheet Studies Expedition](http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/antarctic-ice-sheet-studies).

Mr. Gillette recently joined the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) and has returned to the University of Kansas as an education graduate research assistant where he has begun work on a PhD in geography and environmental science with an emphasis in GIS and remote sensing. He enjoys spending his free time with his wife and dog, traveling, and playing recreational sports, and will be running his first marathon in October 2010!

Leigh A. Stearns's picture
University of Kansas, Dept. of Geology and the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS)
Lawrence, KS
United States

Dr. Leigh Stearns is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geology at the University of Kansas (KU) and CReSIS. She joined the KU faculty in 2009 after receiving her PhD at the University of Maine. Her research focus is on outlet glacier dynamics, which she studies by integrating remote sensing and field-based measurements into numerical models. In her spare time, she likes to bike, swim, walk her dog, garden, volunteer, and run!

Gordon Hamilton's picture
University of Maine, Dept. of Earth Sciences and the Climate Change Institute
Orono, ME
United States

Gordon Hamilton is a Professor with a joint appointment in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. Dr. Hamilton studies ice sheet mass balance and the role of ice sheets in modulating global sea levels. Current research focuses on understanding the dynamics of outlet glaciers and ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica, ice-ocean interactions in Greenland, snow distribution across the polar ice sheets. This work involves field experiments, satellite remote sensing and numerical modeling. Prior to arriving at UMaine, he was a research scientist at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar Research Center and the Norwegian Polar Institute. He received his PhD in Geophysics from the University of Cambridge.

Kees van der Veen's picture
University of Kansas, Dept. of Geology and the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS)
Lawrence, KS
United States

Dr. Kees van der Veen is a Professor in the Geography Department and with CReSIS, at the University of Kansas. His research interests are in the dynamics of tidewater glaciers, iceberg calving, and improving our current glacier flow models to capture the small- and large-scale changes in ice dynamics that are occurring in the polar regions. Dr. van der Veen will be in charge of developing the numerical models of Byrd Glacier in the Byrd Glacier Flow Dynamics project. In his spare time, he likes to show off his vintage Volkswagen in local parades and car shows!