Category Archives: Wild Life

Greenland Glacier Ocean Warming

The Swedish icebreaker Oden will visit Petermann Fjord in northern Greenland in 6 months time. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a large geophysical and geological experiment after excruciating peer-review over a 4-year period. The experiment shall reveal climate histories from sediment cores, geomagnetics, and both bottom and sub-bottom sonar profiling. Besides this main mission Oden also supports several smaller auxiliary projects some of which are funded by NSF while others are not. It will be a fine collaboration between Swedish and American scientists working together in perhaps one of the most difficult to reach and beautiful places on earth.

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

I will aboard the ship to deploy sensors some of which exist and are funded while others are neither. Let me outline first the funded part and then part where you the reader and I can perhaps join forces. First, we will test first elements of an underwater acoustic communication system. Think cell-phones, except the phone towers are under water where they are called modes. The modems talk to each other by sending sound back and forth the same way that whales do talk to each other.

Here is a narwhals sound

that you can use as a ringtone, credit goes to Voices of the Sea web-site at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. These whales visit Petermann Fjord in summer and we saw many of them frolicking in August of 2012 when I visited the area with the Canadian Coast Guard whom I credit for these photos:

Our man-made sound is very quiet, but because it is quiet, it only moves 3-10 km through the water. To increase our range, we plan to install several quiet sound sources that whisper from one water-phone (=hydrophone) to the next. The goal is to get data from ocean sensors moved along this whispering system of underwater “cell phones” to reach a listening station that we plan to install at the edge of Petermann Gletscher’s floating ice shelf. The ice is 200 meters or 600 feet thick and it is not trivial to drill through that much ice, but it can be done, and the British Antarctic Survey is aboard with a team of experts to do so to get sediment cores from the bottom below the ice:

Makinson1993-Fig04

Today I ordered a first cable that will connect the underwater modem hanging under the 200-m thick ice to the surface where a fancy computer connects it to the internet via to a satellite phone. All data calls that the underwater listening station receives will move up the cable to the glacier surface and on to us all via the internet. This challenging engineering project is funded, but I like to use the same hole, computer, and satellite link to get additional ocean and air data.

Additional stations will be drilled through the ice-shelf farther inland to reach the ocean also. Here we also need cables and instruments that tells us how the glacier is melted by the ocean at different location along its 50 km long floating ice shelf. The incremental costs are small relative to the cost of getting a ship and helicopters there, but NSF cannot easily fund small projects rapidly. It takes a long time to pass scientific peer review. This is where you, my dear reader come in: I need your help to raise $10,000 to add science and observations to an engineering feasibility study that is the underwater whispering sound system.

The motivation and details are described with videos, pictures, laboratory notes, plots, ideas, as well as some short, quirky, yet technically correct descriptions at the crowd-funding site

https://experiment.com/projects/ocean-warming-under-a-greenland-glacier.

I created and launched it today, it will be up for 30 more days. If you can and if you like the science, work, and fun that I describe on these pages, please consider making a small donation. You have the power to make this happen and I will share all data both from below and above the ocean and glacier surface with you.

As a physicist, gardener, teacher, writer, traveler, ping-pong player, and geocacher I am naturally curious about both our natural and social world. I love experiments and to me the crowd-funding at Experiment.com is a most enjoying experiment to connect to people in a new way. Full disclosure, however, this company takes 8% of all funds generated to supports its wonderful software and staff. Perhaps you like to join this experiment by spreading the word and, if you can afford it, help pay for some of the technology needed to bring Greenland and its mysteries to everyone who wants to connect to it.

Petermann Ice Island visited by Vagabond

An ice-cube with a mass of 18 giga tons left Petermann Gletscher in the summer of 2012 and thus became PII-2012 for Petermann Ice Island 2012. The CCGS Henry Larsen visited and surveyed the waters, bottom, and ice of the fjord that same year. Since then PII-2012 traveled 300 km southward, grounded in shallow water, but continued its voyage south a month or so again. Last thursday it was visited by a 47′ sail boat called “Vagabond.” I just discovered the report by its Master Eric Brossier, Continue reading

Travels by Mind to the Glaciers and Oceans off North-East Greenland

Our minds travel easier than the body. My eyes have never seen East Greenland, but I moved across its white Continue reading

Camels in Arctic Canada, Nature Reports

Camels roamed freely the boreal forests of Arctic Canada ages ago. Today, Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa published such findings in Nature Communications with Canadian and British scientists. Margaret Munro has the full story.

Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, about three and a half million years ago. [Credit: Julius Csotonyi/Canadian Museum of Nature]

Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, about three and a half million years ago. [Credit: Julius Csotonyi/Canadian Museum of Nature]

My first impression was that of hoax, but here is what the original science article says in the abstract:

Moreover, we report that these deposits have yielded the first evidence of a High Arctic camel, identified using collagen fingerprinting of a fragmentary fossil limb bone. Camels originated in North America and dispersed to Eurasia via the Bering Isthmus, an ephemeral land bridge linking Alaska and Russia. The results suggest that the evolutionary history of modern camels can be traced back to a lineage of giant camels that was well established in a forested Arctic.

Now, the camel is dead for 3.5 million years. It lived at a time when the earth’s climes, oceans, glaciers, and mountains were all different from what they are today with many ice ages that came and went. Bone fragments of this ancient camel were preserved by ice ages long past and today’s cold and dry desert climate of Ellesmere Island.

Good stuff comes out of Canada, and this includes Rick Mercer’s rant about Scientists in Canada 2013.

Rybczynski, N., Gosse, J., Richard Harington, C., Wogelius, R., Hidy, A., & Buckley, M. (2013). Mid-Pliocene warm-period deposits in the High Arctic yield insight into camel evolution Nature Communications, 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2516

Did I ever see a Polar Bear?

When people hear that I have worked as a physical oceanographer in the Arctic for almost 20 years, their first question is often: “Did you ever see a Polar Bear?” The answer is a yes, but when we see bears, it is usually as a tiny moving speck of yellowish white near the white, icy, and hazy horizon. Only twice was it different. The first time was in October 2003 to the north-west off Arctic Alaska when a young bear swam towards and around the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy doing station work:

Polar Bear seen Oct.-10, 2003 from aboard the USCGS Healy to the north-east of Alaska [Credit: Andreas Muenchow, University of Delawarel]

Polar Bear seen Oct.-10, 2003 from aboard the USCGC Healy to the north-east of Alaska [Credit: Andreas Muenchow, University of Delaware]

The second close encounter was last year as the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen was about to leave Nares Strait on Aug.-12. Out of the 100+ pictures snapped of this bear, the ship’s Steward Kirk McNeil of Labrador probably took the best shot:

Polar bear as seen in Kennedy Channel on Aug.-12, 2012. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Labrador from aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Polar bear as seen in Kennedy Channel on Aug.-12, 2012. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Labrador from aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

This bear approached the drifting ship leisurely over a 10 minutes period from a large piece of ice that also drifted with the tides and currents. My PhD student Pat Ryan captured the last 2 minutes of this visit with her iPhone. The voice is hers (I also discern the voice of Ice Specialist Erin Clarke). Greenland is in the background to the east:

ADDENDUM Feb.-13, 2013: I just found this map of the spatial distribution of polar bears from a Dec.-23, 2012 article in the Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin entitled “Polar bear trade, hunting spark controversy.” Writing for the Wall Street Journal Feb.9, 2013, Zac Unger commented with the question “Are polar bears really disappearing?”

Polar bear population and their trends. [Source: Polar Bear Specialist Group. Laris Karklis/The Washington Post. Published on December 23, 2012, 5:24 p.m.]

Polar bear population and their trends. [Source: Polar Bear Specialist Group. Laris Karklis/The Washington Post. Published on December 23, 2012, 5:24 p.m.]

Addendum Feb.-25, 2013: A very funny bear commercial.