Notes from the Field

Welcome Back! Greenland Aquifer Expedition Resumes

July 15th, 2016 by Olivia Miller, University of Utah
The view from Hotel Kulusuk, looking at snow-free mountains

The view from Hotel Kulusuk, looking at tefnow-free mountains.

Welcome back to our blog! We’re here for one more season of field work on the Greenland ice sheet to study the firn aquifer. Surface meltwater percolates through the upper layers of compacting snow, or firn, and pools inside the air space between sow grains, forming a large reservoir of liquid water within the ice sheet. We’re trying to figure out how much water is in the aquifer, how fast the water flows, and if and where it is leaving the ice sheet to potentially flow into the ocean. We need to learn more about the firn aquifer because it is a huge reservoir of meltwater in the ice that was only discovered in 2011, and it could have big impacts on how the ice sheet melts and causes sea level rise. This is one of the most exciting parts of science – new discoveries are always being made!


Our team this year consists of Rick Forster, Kip Solomon, Clement Miege, and Olivia Miller from the University of Utah, Nick Schmerr from the University of Maryland, and, our newest member, Stefan Ligtenberg from the University of Utrecht.

We plan to do some similar experiments as last year (see our past blog posts) but in new locations to see how the aquifer changes in different places, and we also have a few new experiments up our sleeves to try to fill in some knowledge gaps that we discovered following the two field campaigns last year. That is another fun thing about science – through your work, you discover new information you need, and then you get to design new ways to get that information.

View of Kulusuk from the air.

View of Kulusuk from the air.

We will spend a few days in Kulusuk getting our equipment ready for the helicopter flights out to the ice sheet. When we get to the ice sheet, we will set up camp, and then get to work. We plan to spend 3 weeks on the ice.

Our science plan for this year includes:

  • Drilling ice cores to measure snow, firn and ice densities
  • Installing wells into the aquifer to take water samples and to measure how easily water flows through the firn
  • Ground penetrating radar to image the height changes of the water table inside the firn spatially
  • Seismic surveys to detect the bottom of the aquifer and measure how much water is in the firn
  • Magnetic resonance soundings to measure how much water is in the firn
  • Dye experiments to measure how quickly surface melt reaches the aquifer
  • Saltwater injection experiments to measure how quickly water flows through the firn
  • Self potential experiments to measure water flow

This year we have a new, exciting partnership with a research project called STEM Ambassadors. The STEM Ambassadors team is trying to learn about ways to improve science outreach, and so I have volunteered to try some new outreach activities out for them. I wrote a short children’s book about our field work for the school in Kulusuk, and had it translated into West Greenlandic and Danish. This was a very new type of writing for me, but I had a lot of fun! I’ll pass the book along to the teachers in Kulusuk so they can share it with their students when school begins in the fall. If you want to see the book, you can find it here. Any feedback is welcome!

We’ll update the blog regularly over the next few weeks, and look forward to learning more about this unique feature of the Greenland ice sheet! Also, please feel free to leave us a note at the bottom of the page.


One Response to “Welcome Back! Greenland Aquifer Expedition Resumes”

  1. Adri says:

    I am a new follower but will be watching your activities with excitement!! Stay safe. From sunny Gordons Bay, Western Cape, South Africa.