Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kangiata Nunata Sermia

Kangiata Nunata Sermia is a glacier in Greenland where we just started a new study. We use KNS for short. 'Sermia' is Greenlandic and means glacier.
The glacier is at the end of a long fjord system with Greenland's capital Nuuk at the head of the fjord. The first picture is from just outside Nuuk.

The fjord landscape here is exceedingly complicated, fjords split into several arms, which sometimes rejoin. It is easy to see how one could get hopelessly lost without the help of a map and a GPS. These fjords were all carved by glaciers and the sides are often steep and have impressive walls.KNS is more than 100 km away from Nuuk. As you get closer to the glacier you can see the amount of ice retreat since the end of the Little Ice Age, some time in the 19th century. That line is quite distinct, because the newly revealed land is gray and almost void of vegetation, while the older land is covered in lichen, moss, and shrubs and appears brown. The picture below shows the line quite nicely with a distinct moraine. It also has an interesting lake that is now dammed by an old moraine. But it used to be dammed by ice (on the right side), and it is still possible to see the higher shore lines from that time.

Here is an example of a modern ice-dammed lake. These are quite common on the West side of Greenland.We set up camp near the front of the glacier on a beautiful warm day.

But then the weather turned and the next two days we only had occasional glimpses of the ice through fog, although we could here it rumble all the time.
When the weather turned nice again, we couldn't fly because the Icelanders had decided to send ash our way. But finally the weather and the ash cooperated, and we could fly again. We used helicopters to put GPS stations out on the ice to measure ice movement very precisely.
In this study we are trying to understand how the oceans eat away at the ice fronts and make the glaciers retreat. We cooperate with oceanographers from the Climate Center in Nuuk. Our job is to do glacier measurements, such as its speed and rate of advance and retreat, which can all vary seasonally. Here is a look down the glacier and out the ice covered fjord:The scale is difficult to grasp. It's a bit easier when there is a helicopter for scale. Here is a Bell 212, a helicopter big enough for 9 passengers and 2 pilots:

Can you still see it?The ice near the glacier front is just a jumbled mess, and it is near impossible to tell where the glacier ends and where the ocean starts. That's not so uncommon in late winter, and I expect things to clear out quite a bit in summer.

Sometimes one can find patches of ocean water near the glacier's front.
For now we're done putting out instruments. Let's hope it's all working, so we have lots of good data when we return in late summer. Stay tuned.


  1. Martin, your photos are fantastic! I have two smallish daughters, so my adventure pursuits are (for the time being ;) ) a thing of the past...but I can imagine how amazing an experience it must be to see such a thing of beauty, thanks for the photos!

  2. You're welcome! Funnily enough I started putting these photos here because I have two small daughters as well (2.5 and 5) and it is a nice way to show them some pictures of where I have been.