Thursday, 19 June 2014

Glacier = 2 Swiss Francs

After just over a week out in the Land Rover, I can say I've seen some pretty amazing routes, and some things that I have wanted to see for some time (particularly in Austria).  The week's travel has taken me east along the Northern part of Italy, Aosta-Trieste, into Slovenia (amazing place! everyone must visit), into Austria, through Southern Germany, sneaking through Lichtenstein (for all of 20 minutes it takes to drive through) and into Switzerland, where I am currently held up in the Hotel Glacier du Rhone, at the foot of, you guessed it, the Rhone Glacier (RhoneGletscher).  The hotel itself is an impressive old building full of atmosphere, with a fabulous large book at the entrance showing off all the wonderful history of both the building and it's position with respect to the massively retreated glacier.

South-eastern Switzerland, the valley up to the small village of Juf

Ljubjlana, wonderful city

Bled-Slovenia, amazing colour of the water

                         The Pasterze Glacier, Austria... read a lot about this guy, good to see it at last

From some of the old images, photographs from the mid-late 1800's, you can see where the glacier tongue used to be, near the hotel, now not to be seen until you climb in the winding roads for a decent 10-15 minutes (faster in a Porsche).  I'm sure the original founder of such a grand (and creaky) building would be somewhat disappointed to find that the name for the hotel became less apparent after every morning view from his window saw a body of ice shying away.  If it was the service, the current glacier front would be making it's way back for sure... if it's the prices, then the current front of the ice should stay well up into the valley where it currently resides.  

A journey onto the glacier yesterday give me a wonderful feeling as glaciers usually do.  It reminds me how happy I am to be working in such a dynamic and interesting environment, that it shows so many small surface features that I even forget the names of... makes me a happy glaciologist.

                                       forgot the name of this fella

  My first experience of the Rhone yesterday has been both a pleasure and an annoyance.  For the first part, the glacier is wonderful example of the changes we can see in our environment, it's easy to access and it makes a nice walk, although with reasonable effort.  The annoyance derives from the fact that the only easy access and main access to the glacier is to pay 2 Swiss francs per person and walk through a tacky souvenir shop (and return before it closes?).  Essentially building a shop in front of the access point and charging you for it, unlike other locations where viewing towers etc are erected to give better views for those, who unlike me, don't want the harder climb.  This 2 Francs did include however the access the a sheltered ice cave near the current terminus (haven't been in yet).   This shelter is a tatty sheet of what was once a whitey tone, and now reflects the reduced albedo of the tongue, at least its not a circus tent of red and yellow stripes.  Im all for preserving the provision of freshwater from these glaciers, but it just feels like nature has been whored out for a couple of Francs... nothing new there I guess.

Rant aside, I'm looking forward to the next few days on the Rhone, conducting some surveys of the rock walls and trim lines using the UAV and the Structure from Motion techniques.  Hopefully to test some methods of vertical temperature profiles here too that can be compared to the debris surface of the fun fun :D

                                   ooooh, ablation stake :)

Monday, 2 June 2014

should-be-manned aerial vehicle

The Grand Alpine Tour is now under way, with big Landy (still nameless as far as I know) leaving Newcastle in the early hours of today.  The main method of data capture for this epic adventure is the use of a UAV which is aiming to capture thousands of images and create 3D models of mountain and valley sides to assess the frequency and magnitude of landslides that occur above melting/retreating glaciers (see last week's post).

While the primary use of the big beast of a UAV is for another PhD project at Northumbria, it is hoped (and at least partly planned) that it will be made available for my own work on the Miage Glacier as well.  By strapping a TinyTag temperature logger and probes to the awesome 'little' flying machine it is hoped that I can log some data on vertical temperature profiles above the debris covered ice.  This is particularly interesting because the boundary layer meteorology above glaciers during the summer when they melt gives an idea of the 'free air' outside of the influence of the near surface.  By obtaining averaged temperature records for 1m intervals as high as we can manage (20m?) above the glacier, should give some interesting insights into the wider scale temperature controls on melt in such regions.

To say the methodology for this is nailed would be a lie.  Due to only having the larger S800 UAV (shown again below) for a short amount of time before going into the field with it, it is more of a try it and see approach.  (a youtube clip of this particular UAV with some music/camera action, in case you were interested?)

Looking back to March time, myself and Mark attempted this idea with the small DJI Phantom UAV.  One designed more for smaller projects, with less stability against the wind and one purchased largely for the purposes of practicing the idea of flying and capturing data.  Strapping the TinyTag logger onto the Phantom and the probes to each of it's little legs, we drove to Chester-le-Street (wanted to get out of the office anyway), paid for parking, and set the UAV onto the grass of a large park that I can't remember the name of.  Realising that we hadn't brought anything to detach the cabled-tied logger in case of problems, we thought we should just go for it.

This may have been one of the shortest science experiments in the world that doesn't involve rapid particle acceleration or the like.  Instantly after lifting off, the very lightweight logger unbalanced the UAV which did a 180 degree somersault landing upside down on its propellers and chipping one of them.  END.  Shame... it looked pretty bitchin'.

With a 10kg lifting weight, the larger UAV shouldn't have such a problem... but we will see how successful that will be :)

Science... gotta love it