Ice, Climate & Environment Lab (ICELab)

Ice, Climate, & Environment Laboratory (ICELab)

Research

Spring fieldwork 2015 on the western margin of White Glacier.Spring fieldwork 2015 on the western margin of White Glacier.

Motivation

The Ice, Climate, & Environment Laboratory (ICELab) is a glacier research group dedicated to long-term glacier monitoring and investigations into the central processes driving glacier changes in the Canadian Arctic. Outside of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the Canadian Arctic hosts the largest area of glaciers in the world. These ice masses range from large ice caps and outlet glaciers, to impressive piedmont glaciers, to small niche glaciers.

Under enhanced Arctic warming the glaciers of the Canadian Arctic have become a significant contributor to global sea level rise. The ICELab research program aims to improve our understanding of glacier-climate processes and ice dynamics in the high Arctic as a means to enhance our capacity to detect and project future glacier response. The ICELab team uses a combination of remote sensing and modelling approaches that are enhanced by field-based measurements on Canadian Arctic glaciers.

 

Landsat7 Composite image of the Expedition Fiord Region, western Axel Heiberg Island, NU.Landsat7 Composite image of the Expedition Fiord Region, western Axel Heiberg Island, NU.

Geographic Focus

Field-based ICELab research focuses on the Expedition Fiord region on Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut. The Expedition Fiord watershed is 72% glacier covered and hosts a range of glacier morphologies including a large outlet glacier of the Müller Ice Cap (Thompson Glacier), valley glaciers (e.g. White and Crusoe glacier), and smaller niche glaciers (e.g. Baby and Trent glaciers). This variety of glacier morphologies presents the opportunity to conduct detailed investigations into how different types of glaciers respond to climate forcing, both in terms of mass changes and ice dynamics.

 

Automatic weather station at the White Glacier nunatak, 1750 m above sea level.Automatic weather station at the White Glacier nunatak, 1750 m above sea level.

Research Methods

We apply a variety of field techniques including low- (10 MHz) and high- (500 MHz) ice penetrating radar systems to investigate the glacier bed boundary and snow accumulation patterns, automatic weather stations (on and off ice) to study energy balance in relation to melt and refreezing, multi-frequency GPS systems to monitor glacier velocity (GPS network initiated in 2012), air-photo surveys for the development of 3D glacier surface models, and time-lapse camera systems to study small scale processes including stream dynamics and surface melt patterns.

 

Panorama view of McGill Arctic Research Station showing Wolf Peak and Colour Lake.Panorama view of McGill Arctic Research Station showing Wolf Peak and Colour Lake.

Collaborations and Research Support

We are grateful for the opportunity to base this research at the McGill Arctic Research Station (https://www.mcgill.ca/mars/) and work in collaboration with other research teams at MARS. Our field activities would not be possible without the logistical support provided through the NRCAN Polar Continental Shelf Program.

 

Long-term monitoring on White Glacier

Ablation stake measurements on the White Glacier terminus, summer 2018.Ablation stake measurements on the White Glacier terminus, summer 2018.

As part of our field-based activities, ICELab maintains the White Glacier mass balance program. White Glacier is one of the best studied polar glaciers in the world as a result of the intensive research program lead by Dr. Fritz Müller from 1960 to 1980. This program contributed seminal research concerning Arctic glacier ice dynamics, sub-glacial hydrology, thermal structure, marginal lake behavior, and accumulation and ablation processes.

Following the passing of Dr. Müller in 1980, the Axel Heiberg Island glacier monitoring program was led by Trent University professors Dr. W.P. Adams (1936-2018) and Dr. J.G. Cogley (1948-2018). It is now entering its third generation of management with Dr. Laura Thomson at Queen’s University, where technological upgrades and expansion of the program are underway. Today, White Glacier is one of 40 official reference glaciers to the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), and in 2019/20 we will celebrate its 60th year alongside the 125th anniversary of the WGMS and its predecessor agencies.

To access the White Glacier mass balance records go to https://wgms.ch/.

 

 

 

Research Objectives

Building upon this legacy of research, our research group is committed to sustaining glacier measurements in the region for decades to come, while also advancing our knowledge of the sensitivity, stability, and downstream consequences of glacier change in the Canadian Arctic.

Current research projects led by members of ICELab team concern:

  1. The thermal structure of polythermal glaciers
  2. The spatial distribution and structure of firn in high-elevation accumulation areas
  3. The long-term stability of small, highly-sensitive ice masses, and
  4. The surface expression of ice dynamics, in the form of crevasses, faults, and folding.

 

Supporting student research in the North

Graduate and undergraduate students have been a central part of sustaining glacier research activities on Axel Heiberg Island for the last six-decades. If you are interested in pursuing graduate studies or an undergraduate project with ICELab, please contact Dr. Laura Thomson at L.Thomson@queensu.ca.

Accumulation area snow pit measurements on White Glacier, spring 2018.Accumulation area snow pit measurements on White Glacier, spring 2018.

Rekindle the Past to Spark the Future - bringing science and history together at White Glacier

We are pleased to announce that we are embarking on a new project in collaboration with historical geographers, data managers, McGill’s Redpath museum, and Dr. Fritz Müller’s family to explore and celebrate the lasting scientific and historical significance of this 60-year research program. This interdisciplinary research project has been made possible through the “New Frontiers in Research: Exploration” fund and we are so excited bring together the history and science of this long-term research program and to gain new insights from the many individuals who have worked here over the past sixty years. If you have been involved in glaciological research at the McGill Arctic Research Station in the past, please be in touch by emailing Laura Thomson at L.Thomson@queensu.ca

Evening view of White Glacier's western margin, summer 2016.Evening view of White Glacier's western margin, summer 2016.