Glaciers on the Move is a project to bring the amazing world of surging glaciers to a broader audience.
Surging glaciers are glaciers that exhibit two very different phases: A longer dormant phase when the glacier is moving very slowly and builds up mass. A shorter active phase, called surge, when the glacier moves rapidly (many meters per day), increases its extent, loses mass and transform itself as well as the environment around it.
The dramatic behavior of surging glaciers is an exciting, beautiful but potentially dangerous phenomenon that fascinates laymen and scientists alike. Home to the densest clusters of surging glaciers on Earth, Svalbard is the ideal place to investigate them and the secrets they're hiding.
Glaciers on the Move combines Art with Science to exhibit their beauty and dynamics while at the same time communicating the latest research results and raising the awareness for these enigmatic surging glaciers.
Welcome to the magical world of surging glaciers.
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Tunabreen, Summer 2018
The water of Tempelfjorden in front of Tunabreen has been colored brown by the large amounts of glacial flour (fine grained sediments). The sediments limit sunlight to the underlying water layers, but it also acts as a fertilizer for the fjord. The active front of surging glaciers are often very lively with lots of birds that are feasting on plankton and krill stirred up from the bottom of the fjord by calving. This day we also saw beluga whales enjoying these flour-filled waters, either to feed or scratch their bellies in the shallow water.
Wahlenbergbreen, Summer 2018
Glaciers that have a front that terminates in the sea are called tidewater glaciers. The front of surging tidewater glaciers are very active, with a lot of calving. One surging tidewater glacier can actually calve more than all the other tidewater glaciers of Svalbard together. This process contributes to sea level rise. The overall contribution of surging glaciers to sea level rise has yet to be quantified. This is one of many reasons why further studies on surging glaciers are needed.
Southeast side of Tunabreen glacier front, Spring 2018
Tunabreen is pushing its ice over the former side moraine of the glacier, resulting in this imposing moving ice wall. Surges stretches the glacier which can lead it to become a turmoil of ice blocks, one pushed on top of another. During the glaciers fast advance, a lot of sediments become trapped between the blocks, creating beautiful lines of dust, sand and gravel in the ice. In the spring the temperature difference between the sunny days and dark nights creates a melt and freeze cycle which results in the icicles seen dressing the glacier here.
Wahlenbergbreen, Southern side, Summer 2018
Wahlenbergbreen from above, and an example of how glaciers can sculpt the landscape. The lateral (side) moraine is made up of debris (soil, rocks and boulders) created by the glacier. It was left behind when the glacier retreated after earlier surges. The moraine is still ice-cored, with ice binding the rocks and soil together. The ice partly melts during the summer, leading to rapid erosion and forming of ponds in an ever-changing landscape.
Can you spot the people in the photo? They are tiny and a bit to the right.
Wahlenbergbreen from above, Summer 2018
A few years ago, there would have been no ice on this photo. During the 2012 -2018 surge, Wahlenbergbreen has extended itself seven kilometers out into the fjord. The ice has been pushed over a high bedrock ridge, which has produced the dramatic drop in elevation seen in the picture. The moraines created by a surge in 1906 can be seen reaching out on both sides of the fjord in the middle of the picture. For a while, the glacier seemed ready to reconquer its 1906 geometry. In the end, the glacier never managed to reach that far this time.
Surge Meets Woman
Tunabreen, Southeastern side, Spring 2018
The southeastern side of Tunabreen, where it used to meet Von Postbreen, was very active when we were there. There were constant sounds of cracking and falling ice, and it was evident that the glacier had a lot of forward motion. There were fresh snow scooter tracks going into the glacial ice in the picture. The glaciers advance had overrun the place where someone had been driving just a day or two before. This is a reminder that a surging glacier means a changing landscape and can be a potential risk.
Former Ice cave in Rabotbreen, Spring 2018
Rabotbreen, which is another surge-type glacier close to Tunabreen, surged earlier this century and is now in quiescence. This is the wall of an ice cave left behind after the surge and it is an example of how the ice has been affected by the surge. The clear deep blue ice is the result of the huge pressure of the surge that warmed up the ice enough to allow air bubbles to escape. It is criss-crossed by lines of sediments, finely arranged and sorted. Water filled with sediments was flowing between the ice blocks and inside crevasses during the surge and once it stopped they were frozen in place.
The Big Crush
Tunabreen western side, Spring 2018
The margins (sides) of Tunabreen are the most surge affected portions of the glacier. Here, the ice is totally broken up by the surge. Looking closely, one can see at least three different regions; (1) the brown, dirt-filled and breadcrumb like outermost side, (2) an area with ice of greenish tint and (3) a part with larger bluer blocks in the distance.
Chaos of Crevasses
Wahlenbergbreen from above, Summer 2018
Surging glaciers distinguish themselves from others by being very crevassed and by having crevasses spreading in every direction. Here, close to the calving front and in the middle of the glacier, crevasses can be tens of meters deep and several meters wide. We estimate the crevasses in the middle of this picture to be between 1 and 2 m in width.
Ice versus Ice
Western side of Tunabreen glacier front, Spring 2018
As Tunabreen advances during the winter months, the surge pushes and deforms the sea ice that has formed in front of it. There are huge forces at play along the front. Sea ice can actually hold the glacier back, slowing down the advance during the winter months and preventing most of the calving. Once summer comes and the sea ice melts away, the glacier speeds up again and the calving activity increases.
Front of Wahlenbergbreen and Yoldiabukta, Summer 2018
The active front of Wahlenbergbreen is always changing and produces ice and icebergs of many different shapes and sizes.
Upper left: Striped Upper right: Edge
Lower left: Next in Line Lower right: Stroked
Wahlenbergbreen, Tunabreen and Rabotbreen
The glacier and its ice can take very different shapes and forms.
Upper left: Mist Upper right: Marble
Lower left: Ruby Lower right: Undercover