New paper: volcanic ash, glaciers, melting behaviour, SE Iceland

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By Richard Chiverrell

In summer 2011, Richard Chiverrell joined a team led by Joanna Nield aided by field assistants; Steve Darby, Jules Leyland, Larisa Vircavs and Ben Jacobs (all Southampton University), on an expedition to south east Iceland. Our objective was to find some easily accessible glaciers to undertake repeated terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) surveys of different land surfaces to test whether TLS can capture surface roughness of terrain including the surface of glaciers and glacial outwash river floodplains called sandar in Icelandic. Enjoying the very excellent hospitality at Svinafell, our time in Iceland 3-12th July 2011 was a few months after the 21-30th May 2011 eruption of the sub-glacial Grímsvötn volcano. Our chosen glacier, Svínafellsjökull (63.999°N, 16.874°W) is about ~50 km southwest of the eruption centre and so on arrival the glacier had a reasonable cover of blackish-brown coloured volcanic ash.

We had gained a very real opportunity to see how ash affected the microtopographic evolution of the surface of a glacier and rates of ablation over a 7-10 day period. So springing into action with our various important tasks: erecting the Meteorological towers (everyone) in the off-chance of the wind blowing, taking once to twice daily laser scans of the ice surface (Jo), crevasse exploration, ablation stake and albedo measurement (Larisa and Ben), total stationing, sitting in a stone hut and g&t preparation (Steve), scampering about, hut building and fixing things (Jules), and finding glaciers / cooking (me). Result 1 = significant quantities of dartaa were collected. Result 2 = great trip, stunning landscapes and in one of my all-time favourite countries. If you want to read about how volcanic ash produces complex microtopographies and affects the ablation regime of rapidly retreating temperate glaciers, a new paper has just been published online……

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