The Arctic climate is changing rapidly and this has implications for the cryosphere (the cold and icy parts of the Earth). As the atmosphere and ocean warm in the High Arctic, long-lived and extremely vast ice features (such as ice shelves and ice tongues) are breaking-up and drifting away from the coast as giant ice islands (large tabular icebergs). These profound environmental changes are occurring in a very unique and remote area of Canada and yet there is an opportunity to discover more about the underlying processes that can help us understand changes that occurred in the past or will occur elsewhere on the planet as the climate continues to shift. It is also a good time to study ice islands that drift south to where they are seen as hazards to navigation and infrastructure.
Ice research at WIRL falls into several broad inter-related categories:
- Ice shelves
- Drifting and grounded ice islands and icebergs
- Coastal sea ice
- Epishelf lakes
- Lake ice
In most cases, we seek to better understand the processes of melt and break-up of these ice features. Floating ice is influenced both by the atmosphere above and the ocean below. Meltwater and glaciers that flow from the land into the ocean also impact the environment in Arctic fjords, which is important especially for ice shelves.
We use field observations, remote sensing and modelling approaches to detect and understand environmental change of coastal ice as well as study the drift and deterioration of ice islands and icebergs. In the field, our team and our collaborators employ ice-penetrating radar, uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs), autonomous underwater vehicles, multibeam sonar, ocean moorings, automated weather stations, tracking beacons and networks of ablation stakes.
While we place an emphasis on field work, we regularly employ radar and optical satellite imagery to provide year-round observations and we are also engaged in modelling processes so that we can better understand and predict them.
Our research takes us to the northern coast of Ellesmere Island as well as Nares Strait to Baffin Bay via icebreaker. Since ice islands and icebergs drift south, we also track them and work on them off Newfoundland and Labrador. We are also interested in a bipolar perspective and work in Antarctica on ice shelf systems there.
The following video (made by Greg Crocker) gives a glimpse of what it is like to do field research at the northernmost coast of Canada (spoiler alert: lot’s of fun!). For field research photos please see the gallery.