Feature: Arctic Thaw

Measuring Change

Transporting Ice From Greenland’s Deep Interior

by | 5.6.2011 at 10:43pm
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The fast streaming ice of North East Glacier (upper right on image) reaching deep into the interior of Greenland (Image of velocity by I. Joughin, U. of Washington, NSIDC)

The North East Ice Stream is a fast-flowing glacier transporting ice from deep in the interior of the Greenland Ice Sheet out to the coast (see image showing a deep penetration into central Greenland). When it reaches the coastline it feeds 79 N Glacier. This area is heavily crevassed, evidence of the rapid ice flow. The cold blue ice and bare earth of 79 N seems particularly forbidding – even snow won’t settle here.

Heavily crevassed section of ice stream (photo K. Tinto)

The forbidding trail of 79 N with cold blue ice and windswept rock (photo K. Tinto)

It is a two hour transit from Thule, in the north west corner of Greenland, to the survey area. The area is flat, white and empty. The only excitement is when we pass over the likely site of the old “Camp Century,” now buried under the ice, and moving with its flow. I note a “likely” site because the coordinates we have for it are old, and it will have moved. It is possible that one of the radar systems will be able to see where it sits now under the snow.

Located about 800 miles from the North Pole, Camp Century was a nuclear powered research facility built under the ice ~ 50 years ago by the US Army Corps of Engineers. For several years the camp operated as a mini city beneath the ice ignoring the forbidding environment, sub zero temperatures, winds that exceeded 125 mph, and an annual snowfall of almost 4 feet a year. However, the constant movement of the glacier forced the inhabitants to complete regular and extensive maintenance, which closed the camp after only 7 years. You can read more about this Arctic camp at: http://gombessa.tripod.com/scienceleadstheway/id9.html

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