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RAPID: Impact of Large Scale Greenland Ice Sheet Melting on Glacier Hydrology and Meltwater Geochemistry


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Fieldwork / Study

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Greenland, Mid-West
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Geolocation is 67.0179977417, -50.69400024414

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Science / project summary
In 2012, multiple lines of evidence suggest a record release of freshwater from the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS), the largest expanse of glacial ice in the Northern Hemisphere and a major source of meltwater and associated material to the surrounding North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Between July 8 and 12, satellite-derived estimates of surface melt increased from 40% to 97% of the ice sheet. This warming received widespread media attention and public interest, yet the scientific community lacks direct observations of meltwater controls on ice sheet movement and meltwater geochemistry for such a large-scale melting event. The overarching goal of this RAPID proposal is to quantify, in short order, the impact of a large-scale melting event on the ice sheet dynamics and meltwater biogeochemistry of a large, land-terminating glacier on the western Greenland margin. RAPID funds will enable the analysis and synthesis of a unique sample set collected during other fieldwork from the Leverett Glacier catchment, a large outlet glacier that discharges through a single proglacial river. Though the focus is on the 2012 episode, the investigators will also analyze samples and GrIS dynamics data from two field seasons (2011- 12), which will aid in interpretation of changes driven by the historic melting event owing to the highly contrasting annual freshwater discharge rates. The investigators will use time-series radiogenic (beryllium-7 and radon-222) and stable isotopes (oxygen and hydrogen), each with unique sources and constant production rates, from the Leverett glacier watershed to differentiate the fractions of meltwater sourced from recent surface snow, glacial ice and delayed flow meltwater. They will also investigate the composition and magnitude of nutrient and metal fluxes released from the subglacial environment and study how these fluxes evolved during July 2012. From 2011-12, parallel ice sheet geophysical data (GPS, satellite imagery) and meltwater biogeochemistry samples (carbon, macro- and micro-nutrients) have been collected by the PI and colleagues from universities in the United Kingdom. The proposed project will fully fund a Ph.D. student, and high school students and undergraduate interns will be recruited to assist with the laboratory aspect of the research. In order to increase the visibility of this project among the general public, the PI and student will co-author an article for the WHOI magazine Oceanus. This publication reaches a wide audience through both print- and web-based editions. Finally, the Ph.D. student will continue to report on the results of this study via an Expedition Blog called "Following the Ice" on Scientific American (