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Images: The Glacial Chronicles

Ben Linhoff chronicled life and work at a remote research camp on the Greenland Ice Sheet. The MIT/WHOI graduate student spent 181 days on the ice during the summers of 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Lindsey MacKay, University of Edinburgh)

Scientists set up camp on a small spit of land jutting into the western edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, living in tents, cooking over a propane stove, and collecting data. (Photo by Ben Linhoff, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Red box indicates location of the camp. The researchers are studying the complex movements of Greenland glaciers, which are sliding faster toward the ocean, moving massive quantities of ice from the cold, high altitudes of the ice sheet’s interior to the sea. The increase in glacial meltwater is raising the global sea level and causing other environmental changes. (Google Maps)

The research camp was located at the front of the Leverett Glacier. (Chris Linder and Google Maps)

Most of Greenland is covered with an ice sheet that reaches two miles thick. If the entire ice sheet melted, it would raise the global ocean’s sea level by 23 feet. That scenario is unlikely, but accelerated flows of ice to the ocean that raise sea levels far less would still cause problems.

(Photo by Ben Linhoff, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Every summer, lakes of meltwater form on the ice surface. When the weight of the water becomes too great, the ice splits open to form channels that can drain the lakes in a matter of hours. These supraglacial lake drainage events transport heat to the base of the ice sheet and lubricate the bedrock. It is hypothesized that this causes the ice sheet to accelerate its march to the ocean.

(Photo by Ian Joughin, University of Washington Polar Science Center)

Melting atop the Greenland Ice Sheet was unusually large during the 2012 field season: 98 percent of the ice sheet's surface area melted for several days. That sent torrents of meltwater to the glacier's front. Rising meltwaters and icebergs tore apart the river bank making sampling difficult. (Photo by Ben Linhoff, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Linhoff took samples of water at all hours of the day throughout the summerfrom the river of glacier meltwater flowing from the glacier's front. By analyzing the water's chemistry, he can trace the source and pathways of the glacial water. (Courtesy of Ben Linhoff, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Linhoff measures several isotopes in glacial meltwater. Radon and radium come from bedrock at the base of the glacier and reveal the pathways glacial meltwater takes. Beryllium is formed by cosmogenic rays from the sun and helps track the component of meltwater derived from melting snow on top of the ice sheet. Isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen are used to quantify the component of the meltwater derived from melted ice.

 

(Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Instistution)

Among the hardships of life in the camp are mosquitoes. Even with protective clothing, scientists were plagued by swarms that mass as the weather warms in summer.

(Photo by Ben Lionhoff, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

It's laundry day at the camp. (Photo by Ben Linhoff, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A herd of musk ox ambles near the camp in front of the Leverett Glacier. (Photo by Ben Linhoff, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

After three months living in the wilderness, Ben Linhoff loads up with gear to carry back to civilization at the end of the field season. (Photo by Mauro Werder, Simon Fraser University)