Helheim Glacier disintegrating
by Guest Blogger
July 25, 2005
It’s a tense morning on board. People have been working around the clock.
Hughie (heli pilot) woke up at three this morning when the light coming
through his porthole changed. The fog was lifting. Gordon and Leigh,
the University of Maine glaciologists on board, hadn’t been to sleep at
all – waiting to see if they could get out to the Helheim glacier. By
05:30 in the morning that the fog had lifted enough for Hughie and
Gordon to go scout it.
This is something of a bonus glacier. Gordon and Leigh were scheduled
to fly out from nearby Kulusuk on Sunday. But Gordon wanted to at least
take a look at the Helheim glacier since the most recent satellite image
of it is from 2001.
What he saw was dramatic enough to make them change
their flight. Helheim glacier is visibly rotten, and giant pieces of
it are calving off and floating away as it retreats. One crescent
shaped iceberg, over a hundred meters wide and roughly a kilometer long,
had recently broken away from the face. With the glacier crumbling this
badly, Gordon wasn’t sure at first if they could even conduct their
research on it, but made a decision to at least try.
After setting up the usual base camp – with emergency supplies and a
static GPS receiver on solid ground (to act as a reference point) –
Gordon and Hughie returned to the ship for refueling and to pick up
Leigh. Meanwhile, we had been sailing up the fjord through what Martina
is calling an “iceberg graveyard”. Pete (chief mate) carefully weaving
through hundreds of them – some bigger than anything we’ve seen before
on this trip.
The glaciologists didn’t wait for us though. They are under pressure to
return the precision GPS receivers because another research team is
counting on using them. They soon headed off to the
Finding safe places to land the helicopter and deploy the receivers
proved as challenging as feared. Even a kilometer and a half back from
the front, this glacier was easily the most difficult to work on yet.
As usual, Hughie never shut the helicopter down, always ready for a
quick evacuation, and most of the receivers had to be attached to ice
anchors to keep them from slipping off into a crevasse while unattended.
Now, the team is back on board, having completed their first round of
measurements. They’ll return to the glacier some hours later and
redeploy the equipment in the same locations (marked with the antenna
poles and pink flagging tape). By comparing the two data sets, they’ll
be able to see how fast the glacier ice is flowing – a critical question
for the fate of the Greenland ice sheet, which feeds these glaciers.
It’s important to learn more about how global warming is changing our
world, but it’s also important to act. If we don’t rapidly reduce our
greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable energy sources,
global warming is only going to get worse. If you’re in the U.S., the
world’s worst global warming polluter per capita, your help is