Shrinking Arctic Icecaps

What Are They Doing?

The terminus of a glacier near Kangerlussuaq, GreenlandThe terminus of a glacier near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland The retreat of glaciers is one of the most profound visual signs of global warming. Identifying the current magnitude of glacier retreat and its significance in the longer-term context of glacier history encourages a deeper understanding of what it means for society. The goal of this project was to provide a longer-term context for current climate warming and to better define the nature of abrupt climate changes over the past 5000 years in the Arctic.

The research team applied complimentary techniques to both the preserved plants and rocks exposed at the foot of retreating glaciers in West Greenland. Radiocarbon-dating techniques were applied to the plants and the isotopic signature of recently exposed rock surfaces were determined, allowing researchers to determine the duration of ice-covered and ice-free conditions throughout the Holocene (the past 11,700 years since the end of the last major ice age). Combined, these two datasets explicitly date when the region was last as warm as present. Comparing climate reconstructions with on-going studies elsewhere will help to further define recent abrupt climate changes.

Where Are They?

A massive glacier in southwestern GreenlandA massive glacier in southwestern Greenland The team traveled to Albany, New York and then flew to Kangerlussuaq, in western Greenland. Research logistics were managed out of the communities of Kangerlussuaq and Maniitsoq. The team traveled into the field by helicopter, and once there, worked out of base camps that they traveled to on foot. Western Greenland is characterized by an arctic or subarctic climate, with temperatures ranging from between 5 and 18 degrees Celsius during the summer.


One of the many things that I have learned in this field season is that field researchers live a different daily rhythm than the daily grind we experience. Field researchers are very organized, revisit plans daily but in the end are at the mercy of mother nature. There have been very few times when our team actually followed 'Plan A' ~ today, is no different. Many of us at KISS, are anxious to get home to loved ones. Some people have been here for 3 months; I cannot even imagine how they slept last night. However, our flight home is on the C-130 - the same plane that needs to first go to...
We arrived at the KISS building (Kangerlussuaq International Science Support) on August 19th and needed to layover until August 22nd to catch the last south bound flight on the C-130. The LC-130: Our 'taxi' home Kangerlussuaq is found in western Greenland and is located on the northeast end of the Sondre Stromfjord. Kangerlussuaq was founded in 1941 by the establishment of an U.S. air force base. Sugarloaf in the background Staying at the KISS building is a wild experience. It is a dormitory layout and there are scientists coming and going all the time. Jason, Alia and I...
I am not sure how much sleep any of us got last night. Today, we pulled out of base camp 2 and field season came to an end. We needed to meet at 7 am with bags packed; not a problem for me, I think I was up by 5. As usual, this amazing place always has something new to share. As I came out of the tent, the landscape was splashed with the most amazing light from the morning sun. Sunrise at Base Camp 2 - our final farewell I glanced up at Lil' Nug glacier - the mere toe of a glacier that is no longer. I wonder how much longer this glacier will be in existence. Lil' Nug is one of the...
Can you spot our camp across the lake?
With only 2 days left to field season, we needed to make the best of every opportunity. We came to breakfast with daypacks ready to go, had a bite of food and some coffee and away we went in search of erratics on moraines. Base Camp 2 - Lil' Nug Camp Hiking to moraines is spectacular, grueling and deceptive. In the distance, moraines look like little hills that one can easily walk up and over. However, this 8 mile hike took us almost 11 hours. Nothing is 'little' in Moraine-ville. What do you see on the landscape beyond the stream? As we walked past our own El Capitan, the...
Crash Lake
Today was our last day to get a sediment core from Lil' Nug Base Camp. We had attempted to core from three lakes near the camp. The core results were less than what we were hoping for (a lot of sand in the cores). We noticed on our first glacial hike that there was another lake that essentially sat behind the camp. Our destination... Crash Lake However, to get to the lake to core, we would have to ferry across our fresh water lake and portage the gear 1 km (.6miles) over tundra terrain. Putting all the gear into our boat on the fresh water lake After we landed on the other side...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

2 August 2014 to 22 August 2014
Location: Greenland
Project Funded Title: Arctic Sensitivity to Climate Perturbations and a Millenial Perspective on Current Warming Derived from Shrinking Ice Caps

Meet the Team

Tina Ciarametaro's picture
Ipswich Middle School
Ipswich, MA
United States

Tina Ciarametaro is an outdoor enthusiast and a lifelong learner. She grew up in the Adirondacks and spent her summers navigating the St. Lawrence River. From an early age, she was encouraged to 'read' the natural world. Tina graduated from SUNY schools with a BS in biology and a MS in science education. She started her career in 1990 teaching biological sciences but found her niche in 2006 when she was hired by Ipswich Middle School to teach earth science.

Tina teaches earth science from the perspective of looking at the natural world through a forensics' eye; guiding her students to look for clues that nature presents, identify patterns and attempt to determine the source of change. As a teacher, Tina feels that she has a unique opportunity to help impact future generations and the decisions that are made, by sharing her experiences with her students. Tina believes the most effective teachers are those who are passionate and well educated about the subject matter they teach. Tina is confident that her PolarTREC experience will not only expand her knowledge, but motivate her students as well. When Tina isn't in the classroom she can be found hiking and camping with her family, gardening or being a naturalist aboard a whale watch boat out of Gloucester, MA.

Jason Briner's picture
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY
United States

Jason Briner is an Associate Professor of Geology at the University at Buffalo. Born in Seattle, with geology degrees from the University of Washington, Utah State University and the University of Colorado, Jason has taken geology courses all over the western US. His research focus is on the glacier and climate history of the Arctic, and has ongoing research projects in Alaska, Arctic Canada, Greenland and Norway. Jason is the director of the Paleoclimate Lab at the University at Buffalo, which specializes in using lake sediment records, glacial geology, and geological dating techniques like radiocarbon and cosmogenic nuclide exposure dating. With the help of both graduate and undergraduate students, Jason's interests are to reconstruct glacier responses to past climate events in recent Earth history to help understand the sensitivity of glaciers to climate change. Read more about Dr. Biner's research here.

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Latest Comments

The fog was very dense at times. When I was hiking down from the glacier, I could not see my team mate in front of me.
The temperature range was from 40-60 degrees and as far as what I ate, read the other blogs!
That is a great question! There are bonds that formed that will never be broken. I had not met 2 of the team members and we all had to rely on one another. We all had to learn quickly how each of...
Thule has an Air Force base and so does Kangerlussauq. I stayed in Kangerlussauq after coming out of the field. Cool plane to ride home in!