Photo Friday: Glacier Drone Photography

The opening ceremony at 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic featured the use of a record-breaking 1,218 drones. In the last few years alone, drone technology has greatly improved, becoming smaller, faster and more precise. Particularly for the science community, these portable unmanned aerial vehicles have made it possible to obtain information from remote and inaccessible areas of interest. For example, glaciologists and others have been using drones for aerial photography of otherwise dangerous glaciers.

Andrew Studer, a professional outdoor photographer based in Portland, Oregon, is one individual using drones to capture aerial images of glaciers from Iceland to the Italian Alps. The condition and extent of the images show that drones are capable of capturing a unique, aerial viewpoint without the risk of danger, death, or the added expense of manned vehicles (for example, helicopters). In this Photo Friday, take a look at aerial images of Icelandic Glaciers and the Italian Alps, photographed with drones.

For more information, visit andrewstuder.com.

Iceland Glacier Aerial
Crevasses on the Icelandic Glacier (Source: Studer).

 

Sunset Over a Glacier in Iceland Aerial
Aerial image of a sunset over Icelandic Glacier (Source: Studer).

 

Drone image of the Italian Alps (Source: Studer).

 

Italian Alps Drone Image
Drone image of the Italian Alps (Source: Studer).

Photo Friday: Juneau Icefield Expedition

Hands-on experience visiting glaciers is crucial for students pursuing a career in glaciology. The Juneau Icefield Research Program is one of the longest-running glacier research programs with a 70-year history of bringing young people to the glaciers of Alaska and British Columbia. In 1948, Maynard Miller, one of the climbers on America’s first Mt. Everest expedition in 1963, led a group of explorers on a first expedition to Juneau Icefield, which includes some 50 outlet glaciers. Ever since, the program has been leading young students from high school to the graduate level to Juneau Icefield, offering opportunities to conduct field research with faculty and explore various glacial landforms and features.

Students begin their traverse from Juneau, Alaska, making their way up the Coast Mountains of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. During their expedition, students interact with the other members of the research group and faculty advisers to collect field data and analyze the data in camp sites, where various tools are provided to assist the analysis. They finish their expedition in the small town of Atlin, Canada, where they give presentations about their group research conducted on the icefield. 

Below are some pictures taken by students, staff, and faculty during their time on the Juneau Icefield.

For more information on the Juneau Icefield Research Program, visit juneauicefield.com.

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Northern Lights appeared above the grand junction of Gilkey and Vaughan-Lewis Glaciers (Source: Deirdre Collins).

 

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Gilkey Trench overlooked from on a nunatak located in the junction of Gilkey and Vaughan-Lewis Glaciers, both tributary glaciers of Juneau Icefield (Source: Deirdre Collins).

 

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A student from 2016 Juneau Icefield Research Program exploring a crevasse (Source: Lucas Foglia, Deirdre Collins).

 

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Arête overlooking the Gilkey Glacier (Source: Deirdre Collins).

 

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Sunset seen from Camp 17, located on a nunatak in Gilkey Glacier (Source: Deirdre Collins).

Photo Friday: A look at the 2017 Denali Mountaineering Season

It’s summer in Alaska, and for some intrepid adventurers, that means it’s mountaineering season on Denali, the iconic peak whose name means “The High One” in the Koyukon Athabascan language. According to the Denali National Park Service mountaineering blog, Denali Dispatches, there are currently 520 climbers attempting the highest peak in North America. 142 climbers have already reached the summit this season, a 34 percent success rate.

This week held some excitement for the Park Service, which on June 5th responded to two simultaneous medical incidents on the Kahiltna Glacier. One climber, suffering from “acute abdominal illness,” was assessed and helped by park personnel to Kahiltna Glacier Base Camp. More dramatically, another climber was un-roped when he fell forty feet into a crevasse on the West Buttress route, and became wedged in the ice. Rangers arrived at the accident site at 4 a.m., and after nearly twelve hours of chipping away ice with power tools, they were finally able to extract the injured and hypothermic climber, who was hastily evacuated to the hospital in Fairbanks.

 

Rangers camp above the toe of the Ruth Glacier (Source: Dan Corn/NPS).

 

Looking down the Kahiltna Glacier. A heavily crevassed area is visible in the lower left of the photo (Source: Tucker Chenoweth/NPS).

 

Park Service personnel practice crevasse rescue skills near Kahiltna Basecamp (Source: Steve Mock/NPS).

 

Bundled-up climbers watch the small planes that bring people to and from Kahiltna Basecamp (Source: Steve Mock/NPS).

 

Low winter snow pack and cold spring temperatures create weak, sagging snow bridges over crevasses, which are seen as stripes outside this camp on Denali (Source: NPS).

 

Prominent Scientist Gordon Hamilton Dies in Antarctica

Gordon Hamilton, a respected glaciologist, died recently while on field research in Antarctica after his snowmobile fell 100 feet into a crevasse. The 50-year-old associate research professor worked at the University of Maine where he studied the effects of climate change on the shrinking glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica.

Professor Gordon Hamilton (Source: University of Maine).

Dr. Hamilton had been conducting field research about 25 miles south of McMurdo Station, the largest of three U.S. research stations in Antarctica, located on the southern tip of Ross Island. He was driving his snowmobile in a remote area known as the McMurdo shear zone where two large ice shelves meet and crevasses are typically found.

Leigh Stearns, Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas, who worked with Gordon Hamilton for over 17 years, including for 24 months of fieldwork, talked to GlacierHub about the risks facing researchers like Hamilton: “There are certainly dangers associated with doing fieldwork in remote places,” she said. “However, we spend so much time and effort thinking about these risks and trying to mitigate against them, that I think we’re often safer in the field than at home.”

According to Stearns, Gordon was experienced and extremely cautious doing fieldwork. “This trip to Antarctica was no exception. It should be noted that there is nothing anyone could have done to prevent the accident that killed him.”

Sunset at McMurdo Station in Antarctica (Source: Eli Duke/Flickr).

Jonathan Kingslake, a glaciologist at Columbia University, agreed: “I am keen to point out that the risks are not that great and accidents are actually quite rare.”

According to Kingslake, many observations vital for understanding ice sheets can only be made by moving around on the surface of the ice, even despite advances in satellite and airborne remote sensing.

“Ground-based polar fieldwork involves different risks than you face in normal life,” he said. “For example, extreme cold, light aircraft use, and crevassing. These can be exacerbated by remoteness, but usually the risks can be mitigated successfully. Only rarely do serious accidents happen.”

View from McMurdo Station in Antarctica (Source: Eli Duke/Flickr).

Dr. Hamilton set fear aside in Greenland and Antarctica frequently, including during a decades-long stretch when he went to Greenland two to three times a year for field work. He supplemented his research by using satellite remote sensing to track the shrinking of the ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica. 

According to an interview Hamilton gave last year, “No research had previously been conducted on the oceanic waters of a typical fjord” in Greenland. By going out into the field, despite known dangers, Dr. Hamilton discovered that water temperatures reached 4°C between 200 meters and 1000 meters below the surface, within 20 km of the edge of the ice sheet. Hamilton believed this was the best explanation for the abrupt changes observed in Greenland over the past 15 years. “They’ve all been caused by the ocean,” he said at the time. Although he knew the risks, as all glaciologists do, Hamilton lived his life with courage, in pursuit of a greater truth about our changing climate.

The death of Hamilton in Antarctica has since sent shock waves through the research community. On behalf of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs, Dr. Kelly K. Falkner released a statement about the community’s tragic loss. The statement reads: “The U.S. Antarctic Program is a close-knit corps of researchers and support personnel who carry out the nation’s program of research in Antarctica, working at the frontiers of human knowledge, but also at the physical frontiers of human experience. The death of one of our colleagues is a tragic reminder of the risks we all face—no matter how hard we work at mitigating those risks—in field research.”

Dr. Stearns added her own thoughts about her research partner: “He was a fantastic mentor, colleague and friend. He was incredibly generous with his time and ideas and had great humility and humor.”

Professor Gordon Hamilton (Source: University of Maine).

Dr. Hamilton earned a Bachelor Science at the University of Aberdeen in geography in 1988 and a Ph.D from the University of Cambridge in geophysics in 1992. He also worked at the Norwegian Polar Institute and at the Byrd Polar Research Center, joining the University of Maine in 2000. His research interests included outlet glacier dynamics and kinematics, icebergs, ice-ocean interaction in Greenland, and ice shelf stability in Antarctica.

Although his death was unexpected, one thing remains certain: Hamilton died doing work that he loved. “I love my job,”  Hamilton said in 2013 in a video for the Climate Change Institute. “I can’t think of a better job or another job that I would rather be doing. As a scientist, it is incredibly exciting to be in a field that is evolving so rapidly.”

PhotoFriday: NASA Views Greenland Glaciers From Above

NASA’s Operation IceBridge is finishing up its seventh annual campaign surveying Arctic ice levels. The operation has run biannual polar expeditions, one to the Arctic and the other to the Antarctic, each year since its formation in 2009. This year’s spring survey of the Arctic wrapped up on May 22.

While Operation IceBridge uses advanced remote sensing technologies to measures ice levels, IceBridge scientist John Sonntag captured a few stunning shots of glacial moulins and crevassing during a Greenland expedition.

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NASA states IceBridge’s mission is to “yield an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice.” Annual data collected from IceBridge also helps to provide continuous polar ice data throughout the gap in data collection during NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which has not collected data since 2010. The satellite’s successor, ICESat-2, will not begin data collection until 2017.

In an article for NASA’s Earth Observatory, IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger cited the importance of IceBridge in improving sea level rising forecasts, especially for influential annual reports such as from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He said, “IceBridge exists because we need to understand how much ice the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will contribute to sea level rise over the next couple of decades. In order to do this, we need to measure how much the ice surface elevation is changing from year to year.”

You can click here to explore some of IceBridge’s data and findings. To read more about moulins, check out this GlacierHub article about moulin ice caves.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com

Photo Friday: Glacier Crevasses

When glaciers retreat under rocky terrain, they form cracks which vary in width, depth and length. These cracks are called crevasses. A person who encounters a crevasse may appreciate nature’s beauty and form, or find the crevasse very frightening. Glacier climbers often explore crevasses along their way and scientists descend down a crevasse to study and observe glacial features.

For this week’s Photo Friday, we present photos of glacier crevasses, courtesy of Flickr users Jono Hay, Clay Junell, daveonhols, Vern, Andrew. E. Larsen and Dan Zelazo.

For more information on how glacier crevasses are formed in Iceland, read here.

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Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com