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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Summer 2012: GPGs researching glacial environments in Iceland

Hi, I’m Kerrell and in my third year of the Geology & Physical Geography BSc degree. Over the summer, myself and 3 friends Mike, Lewis and Alex spent 6 weeks conducting our 3rd year dissertation project in South East Iceland.

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Our projects varied but all were linked to the changing environments within a temperate glacier region. Lewis and myself conducted a study on the landforms within an ice marginal zone around 2 glaciers. I focussed on the Virkisjökull & Falljökull twinned glacier system and Lewis on the Svínafellsjökull glacier margin. Mike and Alex also worked within the Virkisjökull & Falljökull system, with Mike focussing on dating Late Holocene behaviour of the glaciers using lichenometry and Alex centring his project on the evolution of the sandur system over 5-6 weeks within the ice contact zone.

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjokull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjökull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Conducting out dissertation in Iceland was a once in a lifetime experience and to work within such close proximity to such an active glacier margin was a fantastic opportunity. On our first day we visited both glaciers that we’d be working on and were in complete awe of the huge glacier bodies that flowed over the mountainous regions. The boys were actually speechless for a few peaceful moments!

An amazing day in South East Iceland

An amazing day in South East Iceland

Having the chance to work in such a dynamic region was very exciting. The landscape, particularly within the ice marginal zone was constantly changing and you could notice subtle differences in the landforms on a daily basis. We were very lucky in that when the UK was experiencing the torrential downpours over summer, we had pretty great weather…we even came back with a tan! Although there was a few days of awful conditions were we just couldn’t do any work in the field due to the drenching rain with water droplets the size of sponges and gale force winds. We even had to prop up the boy’s tent as the wind was so strong.

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjokull & Falljokull

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjökull & Falljökull

Conducting our own research projects was an experience that all of us really enjoyed. On our hour walk to the glacier every day, we’d talk about how working in the field on our own was teaching us so many vital skills and has particularly encouraged myself and Mike to further our education with a postgraduate degree. The work was very tough, the terrain was strenuous and being so far away from home at time took its toll on all of us. But being given the opportunity to work in a temperate glacial zone, that will never be the same again due to constant retreat, was the greatest reward for all our hard work. As well as working hard in the field we also took the time to enjoy Iceland as a beautiful country and visited sites such as Jökulsárlón (where James Bond was filmed!) and also attempted to make friends with the lethal seagull with claws….the Icelandic Skua.

On return to the UK, we had to present a 15 minute talk to staff and fellow students to summarise our findings in the field and we’re all currently working on a 10,000 word report and our final maps to hand in for our overall dissertation mark. The experience was amazing and the fact that we conducted our dissertation in Iceland had the rest of our department a bit jealous. Combining both geological and geomorphological concepts has really allowed us to pursue our dissertation with lots of enthusiasm which will hopefully keep us going to the final deadline.

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón