Scientist in several Nordic countries have been working together over the past five years to understand how quickly glaciers can change and how this can affect sea level rise. Improved data on the melting of Norwegian glaciers is just one of the results now that the project has finished.

Pierre-Marie Lefeuvre performs measurements in the Svartisen subglacial laboratory. Photo: NVE/M. Jackson

The aim of the research project “Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice” – SVALI, was to reduce uncertainty in measurements and estimates of current and future changes in the volume of land ice in the North Atlantic region. NVE and 17 other Nordic institutions from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Greenland participated in the project.


Researchers have been working together to get a better understanding of climate and glacier processes, such as ensuring that the glacier contribution to sea level change can be modelled and thus predicted more accurately. SVALI scientists have studied glaciers in mainland Norway and Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland.


Data for the next IPCC report
- One of the most tangible results of SVALI for us in NVE is that we found out that Norwegian glaciers have shrunk more than previously thought, says scientist and glaciologist Miriam Jackson in NVE.


The researchers calculated changes in ice mass by comparing data from the ten glaciers in Norway that have long measurement series of mass balance, with earlier surveys. From this, the ten reference series of mass balance were examined and revised. One of the findings was that the maritime glaciers have shrunk more than previously thought.


These results will be used in future as a basis for further studies and calculations, both in Norway and abroad. The data series from glacier measurements will also be used in the next report of the UN climate panel - the IPCC.


Processes under the glacier are important
- NVE has extensive experience with glacier measurements and NVE glacier data are used widely in national and international glacier and climate research, and thus were asked to participate in the SVALI project. NVE's unique glacier laboratory under Svartisen was also an important part of the collaboration, explains scientist Jackson.


To understand more of how glaciers react to climate change it is fundamental to understand what happens underneath the glaciers. Jackson advised Pierre-Marie Lefeuvre who took his doctorate in subglacial hydrology and subglacial processes with fieldwork at the Svartisen Subglacial laboratory under Engabreen.


In this study two decades of pressure measurements between the bedrock and the 200 metre thick ice lying on top were analysed. The data showed that how the glacier base reacts is directly dependent on how much meltwater there is and on the storage capacity of melt water in the glacier.


- Changes in water drainage under the glacier create different types of mechanical processes between the glacier and the bedrock. This is important information when it comes to understanding what is happening at the Greenland ice sheet and how the melting of this is occurring and can affect the rate of sea level rise, says Jackson.

 

Different methods were tested for measuring the bedrock topography under the glacier including use of a Kinect ©, better known as a toy for video game enthusiasts but also a highly accurate laser scanner.

 

New software developed for glacier research
It wasn’t just activity under the glacier that was measured. Surface motion of the glacier surface was measured with a time-lapse camera, which led to the development of the free software ImGRAFT, which has since been used by many other glaciologists.

 

Improved techniques and better data
- Since a substantial reduction in glacial area was expected, we performed various simulations of runoff from glacial rivers using two different emission scenarios. The results show that the expected glacial melting could have consequences for hydropower generation, agriculture, tourism and natural hazards such as landslides and floods, explains Jackson.


She emphasises that an important goal of SVALI was extensive networking and communication with relevant groups. That is, the main focus was to have collaboration across the Nordic countries to create synergy and broader perspectives.


- We have that now. With better data series, new techniques and new networks NVE are ready to face the challenges. The glaciers are melting but we’re keeping an eye on them, concludes Jackson.