IPY Kinnvika & SvalGlac ESF-Project


Dynamic Response of Surface Energy and Mass Balance of Vest- and Austfonna in Nordaustlandet, Svalbard on Climate Change

Arctic Glaciers Under the Influence of Climate Change

Our project was part of the core project "IPY Kinnivka" in the context of the International Polar Year (IPY). The project focused on the response of arctic glaciers to climate variations.

The Vest- and Austfonna in Svalbard are the largest ice caps in the European Arctic, but we know little about the current variability and trends of the energy and mass balance on their surface as well as their climate sensivity. We developed coupled numerical models for the dynamic response to climate variations and determine climate sensivity for the Vest- and Austfonna ice caps based on our measured data during field campaigns, atmospheric reanalyzed data of the past 50 years and GCM-scenarios for the following decades.


Our study area

Our study area was located at 80°N on the island Nordaustlandet, which belongs to the Svalbard archipelago. It stretched from the wooden huts of the former research station Kinnivka via De Gefonna up to the Ahlmann Summit, the highest point of the Vestfonna ice cap.

The Vestfonna ice cap is one of the largest ice masses in the European Arctic. At altitudes between 0 and 630 m above sea level, it covers an area of 2500 km2. The 3 km2 large De Gerfonna glacier is situated north of the Vestfonna ice cap in a south-facing hill flank at about 250 m above sea level.


Our field campaigns

Field Campaign in Spring 2008

The first field campaign took place between May 09 and June 05, 2008. During this period, a measuring system of six automated weather stations (AWS) and 24 ablation poles was installed.

The six installed AWS's covered a a transect that began in the coastal frost debris landscape near the wooden huts of the former Kinnivka research station on the northern shore of the Murchison Fjord. It reached from De Gerfonna, a remnant of a glacier advance of the Vestfonna ice cap, up to the Ahlmann Summit, the highest point of the Vestfonna ice cap.

The 24 installed ablation poles formed a two-part measuring system. On the one hand, a six-pole transect between ~210 and 270 m a.s.l. was drilled on the De Grefonna glacier. On the other hand, a 15-pole transect was drilled on the NW ramp of the Vestfonna ice cap between ~200 and 550 m a.s.l. Additional three poles were implemented on the Ahlmann Summit at ~600 m a.s.l.

The field work took place under comperatively favourable weather conditions. At five of 21 days there was no total whoteout with visibility below 50 m. Air temperatures fluctuated beteen -5°C and -10°C and the wind speeed rarely exceeded 15 m/s.

Field Campaign in Summer 2008

The second field campaign took place from August 01 to 21, 2008. During this period, we collected the data from 5 of the six AWS's and measured a change in snow cover at 20 of the 24 ablation poles.

The data from the AWS and the three ablation poles at the Ahlmann Summit as well as the highest ablation pole of the transect in the NW ramp of the Vestfonna ice cap could not be collected due to bad weather conditions.

The obtained data refelcts an exceptionally snowy and relatively cool summer. This resulted in several data gaps due to temporary failures of indivudual sensors. At the AWS in Kinnivka a complete failure was recordeddue to energy cut-off from mid-July onwards. The problem could be solved. Addionatly, we added a wind generator for a safer power supply during the polar winter.

The highest AWS of the transect in the NW ramp of the Vestfonna ice cap was found with a bent sensor mast. In mid-July, the station failed due to ice and rost formation. However, the AWS could be repaired on site and is almost fully functional for the winter measurements.

The field work was carried out under very unfavourable weather conditions. Snowstorms with wind speed of about 15 m/s and visibility ranges of a few 10 m paired with icy wind chill temperatures were common. During the irst week, 20 cm of snow accumulated, which piled up by the strong wind and formed up to one meter high sastrugis.

Towards the end of the off-road work, a polar bear, which had followed the descent tracks of the team from the Vestfonna, had to be driven away with the help of several shots from signal pistols at the satellite camp at the Vestfonna.

Funding German Research Foundation DFG; registration number: SCHN 680/2-1

The project took place within the core project "IPY Kinnivka" in context of the International Polar Year (IPY).

Further cooperation partners are:

  • Veijo Pohjola - Uppsala University, Department of Earth Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden
  • Regine Hock - University of Alaska, Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, Alaska
  • John Moore - University of Lapland, Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi, Finland