Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory is situated under 200 m of ice in northern Norway. The laboratory provides a unique opportunity for direct access to the bed of a temperate glacier for the purposes of measuring sub-glacial parameters and performing experiments on the ice.

The entrance to the subglacial laboratory is situated on the left side of the glacier about 500 m above the lake (8 m a.s.l.) and the fjord (lower right corner). Photo Hallgeir Elvehøy

View fact sheet (norwegian)

View map location of Engabreen

Background
A subglacial intake was constructed beneath Engabreen, one of the valley glaciers draining western Svartisen, for hydro-electrical purposes. Permanent tunnels were made through the rock underneath the glacier and lead to access points that open directly at the ice-bed interface.

 

Sampling basal sediment rich glacier ice in the ice cave using a chain-saw. Photo Miriam Jackson.

At one access point, it is possible to use hot water drilling to melt out ice tunnels in order to gain access to the glacier bed. It is then possible to sample ice that is unaffected by atmospheric processes, to be able to take much larger samples than is possible using boreholes and to leave experiments in place from one year to the next, easily gaining access to them again when necessary.

Video footage from the Subglacial Laboratory

BBC visits Dr. Miriam Jackson at the Subglacial Laboratory

 

A variety of projects have been completed in the laboratory by researchers from several different institutions. Several load cells have been installed beneath the ice and the anti-correlation between basal pressure and discharge has been examined, as well as the relation between load cell pressure and other parameters. An instrumented obstacle was installed at the bed surface and sliding speed, temperatures and stresses on the obstacle were measured. Using these data in a 3D finite element model, it was possible to determine the viscosity parameter in the flow law, which was smaller than published values for clean ice.

Chemical and isotopic (d18O and dD) analysis of a two metre long basal ice core was performed to investigate the mechanisms by which different ice facies have been formed. These and other studies examining the basal stratigraphy of the ice suggest there is considerable water movement therein. Other projects include examining the fabric of the basal ice, tracing experiments to study the subglacial hydrology and examining the basal motion of glaciers over hard beds and soft beds.

 

Glacier ice in the melted out ice cave. Photo: Miriam Jackson

Facilities and equipment in the Subglacial Laboratory


The Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory includes the following facilities available for researchers:

  • Fully-equipped living quarters with beds for up to 8 researchers in four bedrooms, kitchen with cooking facilities, dining/living area, bathroom including shower etc.
  • Three laboratory rooms, freezer and workshop;
  • Hot-water system for melting subglacial tunnels;
  • Computer, electronics supplies, miscellaneous tools and heavy equipment;
  • Telephone system throughout the tunnel system including at the main entrance, in the living area and in each of the laboratory rooms.
  • The Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory includes the following facilities available for researchers:

Map location of Engabreen: