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Project November 30, 2015

Through an Icy Looking Glass


Media file: glacierpic.jpg
Image by Ari Daniel. Greenland, 2015.

Greenland offers vital clues to Earth's future. Ice cores show that its climate has often shifted remarkably quickly over the last 100,000 years, sometimes within less than a decade. Now Greenland seems to be poised for another rapid change, which could send climatic shudders across both hemispheres.

Journalist Ari Daniel covered the work of three field teams last summer. Gordon Hamilton (glaciologist, University of Maine) and Fiamma Straneo (oceanographer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) were investigating the ice-ocean interface where ice sheets are melting most quickly, a regime linked to important changes in global sea level and ocean circulation. In southeast Greenland, Hamilton's group used laser-mapping to image in unprecedented detail the calving of Helheim Glacier into Sermilik fjord. Straneo's team was in the fjord, using a new chemical tracer technique to determine which parts of the same glacier are melting and spreading into the sea.

Ari also reports on how glacial melting may be triggering volcanic and other seismic activity by relieving pressure on the crust beneath. He accompanies Freysteinn Sigmundsson (geophysicist, University of Iceland) as he examines the connection between Iceland's receding Vatnajökull ice cap and the recent eruption of a nearby volcano.

These radio stories (for PRI's The World) and web videos (for NOVA) chronicle the race to understand the physics of places and processes where rapid change threatens to bring far-reaching consequences.