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At the tip of the iceberg

A Scientist investigating the process of glaciers producing icebergs, is to take a closer look at the ‘calving’ process of glaciers in the North Patagonian Icefield.

Eleanor Haresign, a postgraduate at the University of St Andrews, will leave for Chile, Patagonia tomorrow (Friday 27th September), where she will examine the calving dynamics of the glaciers at Lake Leones using a custom-made remote- controlled boat.

Eleanor, a Glaciologist at the University’s School of Geography and Geosciences, is particularly interested in understanding what causes calving in the short term, as opposed to longer-term impacts of climate change. In this respect, her investigations are focussed on the dynamics occurring inside the glaciers. Using surveying methods to measure ice velocity, Eleanor will also measure variables such as water temperatures and depths.

“Calving dynamics remain poorly understood, due to the small number of studies that exist and the complex interaction of rate- controlling factors. Whilst climate may provide a long-term control, short-term (10 -1000 years) controls may be explained in terms of the internal dynamic behaviour, relating more closely to internal factors, such as water depth at the ice cliff and crevasse density,” said Eleanor.

“As yet, there is no unifying theory to explain current calving behaviour, or that may be used to predict future trends.

“Given the abundance of lake- terminating valley glaciers on the Patagonian icefields, an understanding of calving is of great importance for understanding their overall stability. If the icefields should undergo a catastrophic retreat, there is a potential contribution to sea level rise of 3%, significant enough for low-lying coastal areas, which cannot be overlooked,” she continued.

Eleanor will make a return trip to Patagonia, having already investigated the glacier at Lago Leones last year under the University’s Russell Trust funding. She studied the calving rates, controls and mechanisms of two previously unstudied freshwater outlet glaciers – Glaciar Leones and Glaciar Fiero – both on the eastern side of the North Patagonian Icefield (NPI).

Her return trip however, will allow closer examination, thanks to the assistance of a radio- controlled boat, which was custom- made by colleagues at the University.

While Eleanor normally conducts her investigations from the safety of a small boat, usually keeping a safe distance of around 200 m away from the glaciers, the radio- controlled boat will allow Eleanor to gather measurements of the ice- cliff at close-range, without personal risk from falling ice. A radio-controlled boat has not been used before, except for initial testing at Fjallsjökull, Iceland, earlier this summer by fellow postgraduate Kim Eijpen, who is also studying lake-calving dynamics.

Temperature data loggers will be suspended under the boat at specified depths, recording every second as the boat moves along the ice front. The data will then be downloaded through an inductive pad to a laptop, powered in this remote environment by solar panel.

Lake Leones is around 10km long, and 330 meters deep. Chileans are thought to be keen to learn more about the Lake’s surrounding environment, and how it will impact on wildlife, in particular the fairly rare breed of Huemul deer which exist there . As glaciers can retreat quite catastrophically, it can be dangerous to the surrounding environment if the ice-cap melts.

Eleanor will spend 8 weeks in Patagonia, camping in the wild, next to the lake, where rumbling calving events can be heard during the night.

Eleanor collaborates with Raleigh International, the youth development charity. By providing them with a science project for their expeditions to Chile, the Venturers can participate in the collection of the science data, with the essential logistical backup from Raleigh.

Meanwhile, her research colleagues at St Andrews, Drs Doug Benn, Charles Warren and Nick Hulton from the University of Edinburgh are currently developing a glacier calving model, which, if successful will be capable of being applied to glaciers in any area or climate.

Eleanor’s trip to Patagonia is funded by the American Alpine Club, the British Geomorphological Research Group, Quaternary Research Associated, Dudley Stamp Memorial Trust and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

ELEANOR HARESIGN IS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW TODAY ON 07789 915 916.

PICTURE EDITORS:

STUNNING PICTURES OF THE GLACIERS AND THE REMOTE-CONTROLLED BOAT IN ACTION ARE AVAILABLE BY EMAIL – PLEASE CONTACT GAYLE COOK – CONTACT DETAILS BELOW.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email gec3@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: Haresign Patagonia pr 260902 final View the latest University news at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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