Tag Archives: freshwater

A Short Summary of Nares Strait Physics

The Arctic Ocean is a puddle of water covered by ice that melts, moves, and freezes. Grand and majestic rivers of Siberia and America discharge into the puddle and make it fresher than Atlantic Ocean waters. The fate of the Arctic freshwater helps decide if Europe and the US become warmer or colder, experience more or less storms, droughts, or floods, and if global sea level will rise or fall. In a nutshell: the fate of Arctic freshwater determines climate.

Arctic Ocean with Nares Strait study area (red box) with tide gauge locations as blue symbols and section of moored array as red symbol. Contours are bottom topography that emphasize ocean basins and continental shelf areas.

Arctic Ocean with Nares Strait study area (red box) with tide gauge locations as blue symbols and section of moored array as red symbol. Contours are bottom topography that emphasize ocean basins and continental shelf areas.

Nares Strait connects the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to the west of Greenland. It is narrower than Fram Strait, but it transports as much fresh ocean water as does its wider sister facing Europe. Few people know this, including climate scientists who often model it with a bathymetry that is 10,000 years out of date from a time when Nares Strait did not yet exist. This is why the US National Science Foundation funded a group of oceanographers to use icebreakers, sensors, computers, and innovative engineering to collect and analyze data on the ice, the water, and the atmosphere.

Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler mooring deployment in Nares Strait from aboard the CCGS Henry Larsen in 2009.

Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler mooring deployment in Nares Strait from aboard the CCGS Henry Larsen in 2009.

Within days of the start of the grant I had to appear before the US Congress to answer questions on Petermann Glacier that discharges into Nares Strait. In 2010 a large 4-times Manhattan-sized ice islands broke off and people wanted to know if global warming was to blame. I was asked how ocean temperatures and currents relate to this and other events and what may happen next. My few data points were the only existing data for this remote region, but I had not yet had the time to analyze and publish much. Two years later another large 2-Manhattan sized ice island formed from the same glacier, but this time we were better prepared and people world-wide went directly to our data, thoughts, and stories when this blog was sourced in news papers in France, Germany, and China. Al Jezeraa, BBC, and PBS reported on it, too, giving me chance to connect via TV, radio, and pod-casting to a larger public.

Petermann Gletscher in 2003, 2010, and 2012 from MODIS Terra in rotated co-ordinate system with repeat NASA aircraft overflight tracks flown in 2002, 2003, 2007, and 2010. Thick black line across the glacier near y = -20 km is the grounding line location from Rignot and Steffen (2008).

Petermann Gletscher in 2003, 2010, and 2012 from MODIS Terra in rotated co-ordinate system with repeat NASA aircraft overflight tracks flown in 2002, 2003, 2007, and 2010. Thick black line across the glacier near y = -20 km is the grounding line location from Rignot and Steffen (2008).

While it was exciting and fun to share Nares Strait and Petermann Gletscher physics with a global audience, it is not what we had planned to do. Our goal was to put real numbers to how much water, ice, and freshwater was moving from the Arctic to the Atlantic via Nares Strait. So the next 3 years we labored through our extensive records to first describe and then to understand what was happening in Nares Strait. We found that ocean currents move water always to the south no matter if ice covers Nares Strait or not, no matter if the ice is moving or not, no matter which way the wind is blowing. The physical cause for this southward flow is that the sea level is always a few inches higher in the Arctic Ocean than it is in Baffin Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.

Linear regression of volume flux  through Nares Strait from current meters with along-strait sea level difference from tide gauges (unpublished).

Linear regression of volume flux through Nares Strait from current meters with along-strait sea level difference from tide gauges. (unpublished).

We know, because we measured this with tide gauges that we placed in protected coastal bays. We recovered 3 sensors; most rewarding was the recovery of one sensor that we had failed to reach in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009, but in 2012 we finally got the instrument and 9-years of very good data. Batteries and computers inside were still running and recording. I have never seen as clean and as long a time series.

Results from a 2003-12 tide record shows as power spectra with named tidal constituents at diurnal (~24 hours) and semi-diurnal (~12 hours) periods. The red line is a modeled red noise spectra (unpublished).

Results from a 2003-12 tide record shown as a power spectra with named tidal constituents at diurnal (~24 hours) and semi-diurnal (~12 hours) periods. Data are shown as the relative amplitudes of oscillations at frequencies in cycles per day or cpd. The red line is a modeled red noise spectra (unpublished).

From satellite data that we analyzed as part of this grant, we know when the ice moves and when it stops moving. The freeze-up of Nares Strait comes in one of three forms: 1. Ice stops moving in winter, because an ice barrier (ice arch or ice bridge) forms in the south that blocks all southward motion of ice; 2. only new and young ice moves southward, because an ice barrier forms in the north that blocks all entry of Arctic ice into Nares Strait; and 3. Arctic ice moves freely through Nares Strait, because no ice barriers are present. Our 2003-12 study period covers years for each of these different ice regimes. And each of these regimes leads to very different ocean (and ice) flux as a result of very different ocean physics.

Data alone cannot make definite statements on what will happen next with our climate, but we know much new physics. The physics suggest certain balances of forces and energy for which we have mathematical equations, but these equations must be solved on computers that can only approximate the true physics and mathematics. These computer models are our only way to make predictions ito the future. The data we here collected and our analyses provide useful checks on existing models and will guide improved models.

June-10, 2012 MODIS-Terra image showing location of moored array that was deployed in Aug. 2009 to be recovered in Aug. 2012.

June-10, 2012 MODIS-Terra image showing location of moored array that was deployed in Aug. 2009.

Johnson, H., Münchow, A., Falkner, K., & Melling, H. (2011). Ocean circulation and properties in Petermann Fjord, Greenland Journal of Geophysical Research, 116 (C1) DOI: 10.1029/2010JC006519

Münchow, A., Falkner, K., Melling, H., Rabe, B., & Johnson, H. (2011). Ocean Warming of Nares Strait Bottom Waters off Northwest Greenland, 2003–2009 Oceanography, 24 (3), 114-123 DOI: 10.5670/oceanog.2011.62

Münchow, A., Padman, L., & Fricker, H. (2014). Interannual changes of the floating ice shelf of Petermann Gletscher, North Greenland, from 2000 to 2012 Journal of Glaciology, 60 (221), 489-499 DOI: 10.3189/2014JoG13J135

Münchow, A., Falkner, K., & Melling, H. (2014). Baffin Island and West Greenland Current Systems in northern Baffin Bay Progress in Oceanography DOI: 10.1016/j.pocean.2014.04.001

Rabe, B., Johnson, H., Münchow, A., & Melling, H. (2012). Geostrophic ocean currents and freshwater fluxes across the Canadian polar shelf via Nares Strait Journal of Marine Research, 70 (4), 603-640 DOI: 10.1357/002224012805262725

Canyon below Ice at Petermann Gletscher

The Grand Canyon of Arizona stands tall in the mind as the Colorado River carved itself into 6000 feet of rock. A similar canyon has been discovered in northern Greenland near Petermann Gletscher. The canyon without a name is buried under 6000 feet of ice, but its size and scale Continue reading

New Ocean Observations in Petermann Fjord

A new ice island separated from Petermann Glacier on July 16, 2012 as reported here first. Less than 4 weeks later, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen reconnoitered the ice island on Aug.-9 when it blocked the northern half of the entrance of the fjord.

Petermann Ice Island 2012 (PII-2012) as seen Aug.-11, 2012 at the entrance of Petermann Fjord. The view is to the north-west. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen.]

I was aboard this ship when Captain Wayne Duffett decide to break into the largely ice-free fjord behind the ice-island after consultations with Ice Services Specialist Erin Clarke. The ice observer had just returned from her second helicopter survey in 2 days with pilot Don Dobbin to assess both ice cover and its time rate of change. From the time the ship entered the fjord behind the ice island, hourly flights to a fixed point at the south-western corner of the ice island ensured that its movement would not cut off the ship’s exit. This approach worked and it gave the science crew of 8 aboard about 18 hours to conduct the very first survey of a previously ice-covered ocean:

Petermann Glacier, Fjord, and Ice Island as seen by MODIS at 865 nm on Aug. 07, 2012 overlaid with survey lines of CCGS Henry Larsen on Aug.-9/10/11, 2012 in red.

We were not funded to do enter the fjord, but our main mission to recover an array of ocean moorings with 3-year long data records covering the 2009-12 period about 100 km to the south in Nares Strait has already been accomplished. So, what does a physical oceanographer do when in uncharted and unknown territory? He drops a number of CTDs, that is, measuring conductivity (C), temperature (T), and depth (D, pressure, really) as the instrument (the CTD) is lowered at a constant rate from the surface to the bottom of the ocean at a number of stations. The results from such work next to the present front of Petermann Glacier was a surprise for which we do not yet have a satisfactory explanation: The waters inside the fjord are much warmer at salinities 32.5-34.25 than they are outside the fjord:

Temperature as a function of salinity from 9 stations across Petermann Fjord next to the current seaward edge of Petermann Glacier on Aug.-10, 2012 in red. For comparison I show in blue a station done outside the fjord on Aug.-9, 2012. Note that temperatures increase with increasing salinity which is expected for waters that are a mixture of cold and fresh polar and saltier and warmer Atlantic waters. Density deviations from 1000 kg/m^3 are shown as solid contours along with the freezing temperature that decreases with increasing salinity.

Another way to show the same data is to actually plot the section, that is, the distribution of temperature and salinity in physical space across the fjord as a function of depth:

Section across the seaward edge Petermann Glacier on Aug.-10, 2012 for salinity (left panel) and temperature (right panel). Symbols indicate station locations from which color contours are drawn. Note that the display is cropped to the top 300 meters while real recordings extend to the bottom which exceeds 1000 meters. The view is eastward towards the glacier with north to the left.

Note the doming salinity contours which to classically trained oceanographers suggest a flow out of the page on the right and into the page on left with maximum at about 90 meter depth relative to no flow at, say, 500 meter depth. Another way to view this distinct property distribution is that the flow above 90 meters is clockwise (outflow on left, inflow on right) relative to the more counter-clockwise flow below this depth. This feature, too, comes as a surprise and requires more thought and analyses to explain.

There is much more work to be done to figure out what all this means. I feel like scratching the surface of a large iceberg half-blind. The data from below 300 meter depth, too, contain clues on how some this glacier interacts with the ocean. As for the purpose of this post, I merely wanted to report that the ice island is presently having a hitting or scratching tiny Hans Island. The latter is unlikely to move, but Petermann’s Ice Island will slow on impact, swivel counter-clockwise, bump into Ellesmere, and pretend nothing has happened on its merry way south. This is the latest image I have:

Petermann Ice Island 2012 on Aug.-22, 2012 as seen by MODIS Terra at 21:45 UTC. The tiny red dot marks Hans Island, the location of a weather station in the Kennedy Channel section of Nares Strait. Petermann Fjord is towards the top right out of view.

ADDENDUM Sept.-1, 2012: PII-2010B had a maximum thickness of at least 144 meters as it passed over a mooring that measures ocean currents from the Doppler shift of acoustic backscatter that is shown here for one of four beams:

Time-depth series of acoustic scatter from a bottom-mounted acoustic Doppler current profiler for 24 hours starting Sept-22, 2010 9:30 UTC. Red colors indicate high backscatter from a “hard” surface like ice. The vertical axis depth in meters above the transducers while the horizontal is ensemble number into the record (0.5 hours between ensembles). The 2010 ice island from Petermann Glacier (PII-2010B) passed over the mooring. When PII-2010B was attached to the glacier it was adjacent to the segment that became PII-2012 this year.

Oceanography of Petermann Fjord and Glacier Melting

Trudy Wohlleben just send a group of scientists in Denmark, England, Canada, and the US the latest RADARSAT image of the ice island that formed in Petermann Glacier earlier this week.

RadarSat Image of Petermann Ice Island (PII-2012) and Glacier kindly provided by Trudy Wohlleben, Canadian Ice Service. The location of the hinge line is approximate only.

The current position of the remaining ice shelf of Petermann Glacier is the farthest landward since recorded observations. Dr. Croppinger was the first to provide a map of the glacier Continue reading

Physics and Engineering of Breaking Dams, Glaciers, and Tides

The title “Bombing Hitler’s Dams” fascinated me when I saw it featured on my TiVo last night. The story told was that of a group led by a smart, creative, and somewhat crazy Cambridge University engineer Dr. Hugh Hunt trying to recreate all the engineering elements needed to blow up a dam with a bomb that skips along the surface of the water the same way that a flat stone skips over a calm pond. While we all know intuitively how to throw a flat stone at the right speed at the correct angle, imagine to do it from an aircraft dropping a bomb to skip a few hundred yards over the surface of a reservoir, kiss the dam, sink, then blow it up via a depth charge. After many elaborate tests starting with 3 foot baby’s pool 5 inches deep, the show concluded with the real blowing up of real dam in northern Canada by a much enlarged group of engineers, construction workers, students, pilots, contractors, etc.

Photograph of the breached Möhne Dam taken by Flying Officer Jerry Fray of No. 542 Squadron from his Spitfire PR IX, six Barrage balloons are above the dam

If you think this is hard to do, it is. On May 16/17, 1943 a British bombing raid called “Operation Chastise” deployed cylindrical drums filled with explosives like skipping stones to hop over torpedo nets meant to protect the dams from subsurface mines. Two of three targeted dams were blown up, 53 airmen perished, German heavy industry in the Rhine-Ruhr valley was disrupted for 4 months, and over 1500 civilians drowned in the flood wave created by the breaking dams:

The story reminds my of my adviser, Dr. Richard Garvine (an aeronautical engineer by training) whom I met in 1986 while a physics student from Germany studying physical oceanography for a year in Bangor, Wales. Rather than returning to Germany, I went to the United States for graduate school where I met my sweetheart. One of my first graduate assignment was to study the “breaking dam” problem (Stoker, 1948: “The Formation of Breakers and Bores”, Communications of Pure and Applied Mathematics, 1, 1-87). The “breaking dam” problem is now a classical problem in fluid dynamics that relates to breaking waves, tsunamis, tides, as well as the discharge of fresh water from cooling plants, estuaries, and glaciers. I applied it to tides in the Conway Estuary in North-Wales for my MS thesis that the Swedish Royal Society saw fit to publish as my first contribution to science.

Conwy Estuary at its mouth near high tide.

I stole the above photo of the Conway Estuary, North Wales from a set of beautiful travelogues of an area where I camped for 6 weeks to guard instruments that measured currents along the 50 km tidal reach of this beautiful estuary. The tides rush in like the waves of a breaking dam, yet, they do not break (no bore forms, why?). To model the physics, I needed to study the work done by American, British, and French engineers who labored hard to defeat Nazi Germany by blowing up actual dams developing new and applying old ideas in physics and engineering along the way. Studying their work, I got my answer, too.

Addendum: A review of the aftermath and devastation of the 1943 flood wave from a German perspective is posted here with original photos from both British and German sources.