Photo Friday: Piedmont Glacier ‘Like Cold Honey’

If you’re a GlacierHub reader then you are likely familiar with our love for the imagery and science that resulted from more than a decade of Operation IceBridge––and our lament that the temporary program has finally been replaced by satellite. To be clear, this is a good thing––but it means that personal images from the window seat of IceBridge flights, like this week’s Photo Friday courtesy of glaciologist Mike MacFerrin, are now a thing of the past.

On March 8, MacFerrin shared a 2018 photo of a Greenlandic piedmont glacier on Twitter with the florid caption “Like cold honey spilling onto a plate.” He snapped the picture with his mobile phone, which if you look carefully, is visible in the window reflection.

Piedmont glacier, Greenland 2018 (Source: Mike McFerrin)

One of the upsides of Operation IceBridge was that it took scientists to hard-to-reach regions for observation. “It’s less impressive than if I stood on a mountainside taking the photo,” MacFerrin told GlacierHub via Twitter. “But that part of Northeast Greenland National Park is extremely remote and inaccessible otherwise.”

The mission of Icebridge was to collect data for predicting the response of the Earth’s polar ice to climate change and sea-level rise. NASA assembled the operation after an ice monitoring satellite, NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), malfunctioned in 2009. Operation Icebridge flights “bridged the gap” until the successor satellite, ICESat-2, could be launched in 2018.

A chart of Northeast Greenland National Park glaciers where the piedmont glacier image was taken (Source: Mike McFerrin).

The unnamed glacier in MacFerrin’s image is a piedmont glacier, a valley glacier which has spilled out onto relatively flat plains, spreading into bulb-like lobes––or as MacFerrin put it so poetically, like cold honey spilling onto a plate. The formation of a piedmont glacier happens when ice flows down a steep valley and spills out onto a relatively flat plain. The biggest and perhaps most famous piedmont glacier is Alaska’s Malaspina Glacier, which glaciologist Mark Fahnestock aptly described as a 1,500-square mile “large puddle of ice.”

Malaspina Glacier in Alaska is the world’s largest piedmont glacier (Source: NASA)

NASA said 2019 would be the final year of IceBridge flights, “the end of an era of airborne observations that has catalogued an Arctic that has experienced rapid change––from the rapid thinning of many Greenland ocean-terminating outlet glaciers to the continued decline of the Arctic sea ice pack in extent, snow cover and thickness.” Though IceBridge may have ended, don’t expect us to stop sharing its images anytime soon.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Alaska’s Sheridan Glacier––via Operation IceBridge

Photo Friday: NASA’s Renewed Operation IceBridge

NASA’s IceBridge Project- More Than Just a Pretty Image

Video of the Week: Time-Lapse Video Shows Fluid Nature of the Cryosphere

A time-lapse video tweeted by NASA Earth captures decades of movement in our planet’s cryosphere. Glaciologist and University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty member, Mark Fahnestock appears in the video, describing the changes and the significance of the data. According to Fahnestock, the images taken from space are a product of the Landsat Program, a joint NASA/USGS program, which uses satellites to create a record of Earth’s landscape. Landsat, whose first iteration launched in 1972, is the longest ongoing space-based record of its kind.

The nearly five-minute video provides a glimpse of the land record from Landsat. The time-lapse footage has a frenetic feel to it as the satellite imagery improves with each generation of technology. It shows decades of change in ice cover on glaciers, including the Alsek, Columbia, and Taku Glaciers. Fahnestock noted the changes seen in the Hubbard and Malaspina Glaciers in particular. He draws attention to the time-lapse video of the Hubbard Glacier, in which the glacier can be seen spreading into a neighboring river moving trees, other material, and altering the environment. Fahnestock calls the Malaspina Glacier a “large puddle of ice” and describes how the time-lapse of this glacier helped him understand the looping patterns in moraines, or materials deposited by a moving glacier.

He credits remote sensing with expanding the field of observation glaciology. Fahnestock explains that these time-lapse videos have given glaciologists a better understanding of changes in ice cover. Landsat has provided them with a long record of changes, which allows researchers to recognize long-term trends in ice cover fluctuations and separate the trends from shorter periods of warm or cold years. Satellite observations of glaciers are mentioned in the IPCC’s latest output, Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, which further stresses the significance of this kind of data.

Landsat image of the Taku Glacier, 2019 (Source: NASA/ Landsat Image Gallery )

According to Fahnestock, these time-lapse videos provide a historical record of how quickly glaciers are melting or in some cases, where glaciers are thickening. These changes in ice cover are visible in the video by NASA Earth, even to the untrained eye. Fahnestock addresses criticism he has received from other researchers––that he watches the videos too quickly. He says, “I like to see the fluid nature of the ice. It lets you see the ice on the land as sort of this very active participant in what’s going on.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

CLIMATE CONFESSION: I WAS WRONG

Photo Friday: Province in Turkey Hit by Multiple Avalanches

Ancient Viruses Awaken as the Tibetan Plateau Melts

Photo Friday: Malaspina Glacier as Seen From Space

The Malaspina Glacier, in Southeastern Alaska, is the largest piedmont glacier on Earth. Because of its size, the glacier can only be photographed in its entirety from space. Most of the pictures we have of the glacier come from NASA.

Piedmont glaciers are flat glaciers that occur when ice that was previously trapped by mountain valleys is able to spread out onto lowlands. The glacier moves in surges that push dirt and rocks outward into expanding concentric patterns, which creates the visible lines in the glacier.

The Malaspina Glacier covers a land area of more than 3,900 square kilometers or about 1,500 square miles.

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