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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Petermann Glacier: A river runs along the top of it

UPDATE: July 2012: go to this post to see photos of the latest enormous iceberg calving:

and this link:

A river runs along the top of it

by Kieran Mulvaney, Earth Pub, Discovery's global science blog, July 19, 2009
Kieran Mulvaney is the author of At the Ends of the Earth: A History of the Polar Regions and The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling. He’s finishing a book on polar bears. He’s co-founder of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a leader of Greenpeace expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic.
[BLOGGER'S NOTE: Please click on that photo of the kayak, it really gets big, wow!]
At 82 degrees North, farther north than almost every other human being, three scientists and two crew on board the Arctic Sunrise did what anybody would do in that situation.
They paddled kayaks across the top of a glacier.
The reasoning was simple enough. The scientists -- Jason Box of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, Alun Hubbard of Aberystwyth University in Wales, and Richard Bates of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland -- planned to deploy a special ice-penetrating radar of Hubbard's devising, to map as best they could the interior of the Petermann Glacier, and perhaps shed some light on which it is apparently on the point of breaking into several pieces.
C1207099 To facilitate the task, we had equipped with the Sunrise with just about everything we could think of that might be used to drag a radar across the surface of a glacier, from a snowmobile to enormous kites of the kind that on-board ice expert Eric Philips once used to kite-ski across Greenland.
But we had little idea of what to expect, and when the ship arrived at its location in the Nares Strait and once researchers and crew began examining the glacier up close, they found that it was far more pitted and worn than we imagined. Melt lakes and even whirlpools dotted its surface, and widening cracks filled with water to create melt rivers that carved through the icy terrain as if it were the Grand Canyon.
C1207096 Instead of being beaten by the environment, they adapted to it, and one morning last week, they set out in three kayaks, radar antenna strung between and behind them. They paddled through cobalt blue water, flanked by kilometer-high mountains fronted by vast expanses of glacier ice.
Twenty-five kilometers later, they had data that appeared to suggest, according to Hubbard, that the glacier's basal topography was "highly variable" but that, on balance, "the ice is thinner than we might expect."
And several thousand miles away, an expedition coordinator and Discovery Earth blogger opened his e-mail and exulted at the sight of these remarkable images of an unusual kayaking adventure.
Photographs by Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace
Link to article:

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