Sunday, 16 February 2014

Fieldwork you say??

Last night I watched the full film of Chasing Ice for the first time, not sure why it has taken me so long though.  Putting my feelings about James Balog and his over-emphasis on his old mans knee aside... it demonstrates amazingly the wonder of our world.  However you want to argue the future of our climate and the impact of human induced change, the film shows some stunning footage with some pretty music (I'm a sucker for some background piano motif) not just reminding me that the world of ice is super dynamic and (in many cases) rapidly changing, but also that it exists in the first place... Seeing pictures of a friend's recent trip to Antarctica and the Chasing Ice's footage from the Greenland Ice Sheet just amazes me.  It makes me happy to have a decent fieldwork component to my PhD research.

At least 4 times this year, starting in April, I will be journeying out to the Alps in order to study the variations in temperature across my study glacier.  The glacier in question is the well studied debris-covered Miage Glacier, which lies at the flank of Mont Blanc, on the Italian side (see below).

The clearly, very carefully placed red square shows very approximately where the Mont Blanc Massif, and my study glacier is.  Looking at local area maps, it is always easy to find this glacier because of its very distinct shape....

Above is the local area digital elevation model (DEM) processed in ArcMap GIS, showing the shape outline of the Miage Glacier (black line).  The 10 metre resolution of the DEM has been shown here processed into the slope angle, whereby the reds and oranges show a steeper slopes and the greens, less so.  As you can see, the glacier itself is quite gently sloping, making fieldwork a little easier (though it is ~10km long in total!).
The way the tongue of glacier bends around into the valley, makes it easily distinguishable in areal maps etc.. I'm not nearly clever enough to come up with some shape description for it, but happy for funny suggestions.

I will be spending time this year setting up tripods with temperature collecting equipment over as much of the glacier as possible, to best capture the variability in temperature as the elevation and site characteristics change.  For most of the glacier, until the tributaries nearer the top, the glacier has thick debris cover of rocks and dirt.

  These have accumulated over time from various avalanches and rockfalls onto the glacier, which have actually protected the ice below from melting as fast where the debris is very thick.  Glaciers like this are therefore very interesting to monitor in respect to changing climate.

Further up glacier, as the ice branches out into its sourcing tributaries, the ice surface becomes visible.  However, the presence of ice falls and crevasses makes life a bit more hazardous.. and fun!

Hopefully, it will be possible to establish some temperature stations further up here on the glacier, to better understand the variations temperature lapse rate.  However, at the time of year when the stations will be placed, snow cover may obscure the presence of crevasses (of varying sizes), which equipment can be affected by when the snow melts further on in the year.  The above image shows a zoomed in slope map of the area in question.  Below, the picture extracted from a shiny new Google maps shows part of this region in summer time.  Crevasses are hiding... but not very well....

Some discussions with the supervisory team are in order.

I'm looking forward to this April, when we drive all the of the needed equipment to the alps (not looking forward to the drive as much mind) and spending time with ice and snow!  My pictures will be unlikely to rival that of that guy with the dodgy knee, but I don't have several weeks and a calving front of the Greenland Ice Sheet, or expensive camera equipment... I'll try my best.
However, the part I look forward to most of all is just finding a spot to sit and taking it all in before I ski on to the next site......That reminds me......

I should really learn how to ski! :)

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