Glacial Movement and Seismicity

What Are They Doing?

Glaciers are like moving rivers of ice, and as meltwater makes its way to the bottom of the ice sheet it acts like a lubricant helping the glacier move. As climate warms in the polar regions, glacial meltwater increases, reduces friction, and causes this movement to increase. Increased glacial movement may cause glaciers to recede more rapidly, but there is no exact formula for this.

For this project, the team worked at the Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory, a laboratory located beneath a glacier, to study the glacier’s movement. From the lab, water pressure beneath the glacier was manually increased in an attempt to cause rapid glacial movement. The sliding of the glacier caused very small earthquakes, which could be measured using seismometers at the glacier surface and in rock tunnels below the glacier.

Predicting future increases in ice-sheet sliding speed is one of the single largest unknowns in predicting sea-level rise due to melting glaciers. The measurements taken were to help scientists learn more about glacial movement. In addition, the information improved how seismological data from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets translate to glacial movement, and therefore sea level rise.

Where Are They?

The team lived and worked at the Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory located in northern Norway, slightly north of the Arctic Circle. The Svartisen Glacier is one of the largest glaciers on the Norwegian mainland and the laboratory is situated under some 200 meters of ice. The under-ice laboratory provides researchers the unique opportunity to study the base of the glacier, underlying bedrock, and glacial processes. In addition to being a research station, tunnels in the rock beneath the ice cap have been engineered to direct glacial meltwater water to a nearby hydroelectric power station.

Expedition Map


Beth Lampert
Finally made it home! Having a beard and looking worn out caused me to be selected for special screening and pat downs.... a long journey home and I am grateful for the experience. I finally made it home after about twenty hours of travel. My daughter Beth picks me up at the airport. My beard made for several random pat downs on the way back, all in good nature though. I want to give special thanks to the third grade class at Chapman Hill elementary school who followed my journey and celebrated with a liquid nitrogen glacial icecream party! They tolerated all my teasing about Jens...
Bye from Svartisen!
I take a short trip up to the glacier to bid farewell. I am very grateful for the experience all the folks at Polartrec have given me, especially Kristin and Janet, who are wonderful Alaskan hosts!. Thanks to Robbie and Roy from Polar Services for their support and equipment.. Thank you to Miriam Jackson and Hallgeir Elvehoey for helping me in the tunnel and for getting around Norway! Thank you Denis for teaching me about your research on acoustics of rock cracking and the great ideas you gave me....Many thanks to Professor Neal Iverson for arranging to have me join his glacier group,...
Rope bridge
I will be leaving on the ferry in a few days and I am just exploring the area in these last days. Today I went over to the south side and hiked a bit. It is more rustic over there and it offers some different views. It is interesting to feel land locked here. The fjords in Norway are plentiful, and you can feel how isolated people would be without the ferry's to transport them around the steep glacier valleys. There is a rope bridge for tourists to cross over the glacier stream. I am just a physics geek, thinking of the natural resonate frequency and happy that I do not have a class...
Syttende Mai
It is the Seventeenth of May! Syttenda Mai! Or the Norwegian National Day. It is a day of spontaneous celebration by children everywhere in Norway. This is a really big deal here, a bit like fourth of July for us, but more of a celebration of the goodness of life and the joy of being a unified country. This day is adopted to celebrate the liberation at the end of WWII though it has historically been celebrated before this (see Wikipedia!) Every elementary school district has their own parade with colors and music and festivities. In Oslo, nearly 100,000 people march together on...
Sitting by the glacier
Today I hiked up to the glacier tongue with Knut and looked at the ice from close up. I was happy to get some pictures yesterday of the calm lake, which is a bit of a rarity because of the cold glacier near it. The winds from the cold air rushing down the slopes are known as Kadabatic winds (Greek for downhill), these are normal for glaciers because the cold air sinks to the lower elevations because it is denser. When it does this it kicks up a lot of dust which covers the end of the glacier with dirt. This can actually slow down the melting of the glacier by insulating it. Knut is...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

25 April 2011 to 20 May 2011
Location: Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory, Norway
Project Funded Title: Glacier Seismicity and its Relationship to Basal Movement

Meet the Team

Michael Lampert's picture
West Salem High School
Salem, OR
United States

Micheal Lampert grew up saving earthworms from sunny sidewalks, wondering about how water drops dance on hot skillets, puzzling over which color is at the top of a rainbow, and trying to build perpetual energy machines with Lego's. His love of physics and science led him to become a physics teacher at West Salem High School in Salem, Oregon. As a teacher of over twenty years he has continually tried to bring the excitement of science research to his students.

In the classroom, Mr. Lampert's students have learned about science using exciting hands-on instruction and have been highly successful in national contests. Photos of his students line the wall with their successes and humorous follies. He loves art and integrates it into his lessons whenever possible. Mr. Lampert's ultimate goal is to enthuse a generation of students to pursue science as a life-long career.

His fascination with the Polar Regions began many years ago, with a play on Antarctica his mother took him to. From that day on he was hooked on the adventures of Scott, Schackleton, and Amundsen and he has previously studied ozone depletion while based in McMurdo Station. He is thrilled to continue connecting science with the community through PolarTREC.

Neal Iverson's picture
Iowa State University
Ames, IA
United States

Neal Iverson is the Smith Family Foundation Chair of the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences at Iowa State University. His research is devoted primarily to understanding glaciers and the spectacular imprint they leave on the landscape. Glacier dynamics and landscape modification are particularly sensitive to processes at glacier beds, which is the focus of much of his effort.

This research involves field experiments at modern glaciers, field measurements in formerly glaciated landscapes, laboratory experiments, and the formulation of models aimed at characterizing glacial processes. He and some of his former students are the 2012 recipients of the Kirk Bryan Award, given by the Geological Society of America for research that advances the field of geomorphology. More information about Dr. Iverson can be found here