Controls on the mass loss from northeast Greenland revealed by newest generation of ESA satellites

PhD Nicholas Rathmann is the lead author of a new article on “Highly temporally resolved response to seasonal surface melt of the Zachariae and 79N outlet glaciers in Northeast Greenland” published in Geophysical Research Letters. Below a short description of the main findings. You can find the full paper here.

The northeast Greenland ice-stream (NEGIS) drains 16% of the Greenland ice sheet, holding approximately 1m of sea level rise equivalent, but its response to a warming climate is poorly understood, partly due to its remote location.negisNow, a team of researchers headed by ice2ice PhD Nicholas Rathmann part of the European ice2ice project have published a study in Geophysical Research Letters where they identify which processes control the present-day mass loss from this less understood region. By using surface images taken every 12 days over NEGIS from one of the newest generation European Space Agency (ESA) satellites, Sentinel 1-A, the researchers derived state-of-the-art surface velocity maps in collaboration with ESA’s climate change initiative project to study the seasonal behavior of the NEGIS terminus region.


Combined with computer models of the ice flow and the present-day atmospheric state, the researchers found that future contribution to sea level rise from this region might be significantly effected by a warming atmosphere, but also raises further questions about the moderating effect sea ice mélanges might have – i.e. the composite “soup” of sea ice and calved ice bergs.

Moreover, the researchers also point to the importance of considering large calving events, such as what recently happened at the Larsen C ice shelf at Antarctica, on an individual basis since the plug-like effect of ice shelfs might depend on the details of the local balance of forces. Specifically, at Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, one of the marine terminating glaciers of NEGIS, the researchers found up to 80% of the 76km long shelf could be lost without influencing the glacier’s mass loss (contribution to sea level rise).


These conclusions were drawn by the researchers by investigating the influences exerted by four important processes known to control the mass loss from these kind of glaciers:

(1) Melting of snow and ice at the surface, which is subsequently transported to the below bedrock through cracks in the ice where the water may lubricate the bedrock. There, water may lead to enhanced sliding of the above ice and thereby an increased mass loss.

(2) The large amount of sea ice and calved ice bergs (ice mélange) blocking the further escape of ice into the ocean at the Zacharia marine-terminating glacier of NEGIS.

(3) The large ice shelf at Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, a second marine-terminating glacier of NEGIS, possibly acting as a plug holding back the flow of ice into the ocean.

(4) Sub-glacial “sticky spots” which may moderate the enhanced sliding caused by water lubricating the bedrock.

By combining the surface velocity maps with computer models of the ice flow, the researchers found a large influence is exerted by (1) and (2), but not (3) and (4). This, the researchers say, points to the importance of considering the local processes and dynamics of marine-terminating glaciers when estimating their possible future mass losses, and thus their contribution to sea level rise.

ICAT 2018 – a great experience

For the duration of 6 days between the 25th and 30th of September 2017, 28 young scientists meet up at the Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen. A collection of master-, phd students and post docs all with varies backgrounds and outlooks came together for the common goal of mastering the analysis of ice-cores. ICAT 2018 had begun.

by Andreas Plach and Jesper Baltzer Liisberg, students at ICAT 2018

The course ICAT (ice core analysis and techniques) first presented us to the history of our climate and the drilling of ice-cores. This was followed with a round of presenting ourselves. Each person had prepared a 3-minute video of who they were, what they did, and why they were interested in ice-cores. This proved an engaging and fun new take on what is often done as forgettable powerpoint presentations, and you got to remember the different people much better.


Students presenting their introduction videos (photo: Alexander Weinhart).
Students presenting their introduction videos (photo: Alexander Weinhart).

The first two days offered a similar program at the Rockefeller building, with student videos and visits to the different laboratories located there. Here we were presented with the different aspects of ice-core analysis. Isotope, gas and impurity measurements each telling their own side of the combined story that is our climate history.


Following the final lectures Monday we went to see a bit of Copenhagen by going to get an ice-breaker beer (if you will allow us such a pun).

Lectures were alternated with many exercises. Here students are counting annual layers (photo: Alexander Weinhart)
Lectures were alternated with many exercises. Here students are counting annual layers (photo: Alexander Weinhart)


Exercise in the isotope lab (photo: Alexander Weinhart).
Exercise in the isotope lab (photo: Alexander Weinhart).

Wednesday we started the day at a different building with lectures on determining snow/ice densification and a detailed description about the development of the ice-core drills.
Following the morning lectures we grabbed a sandwich and went on an excursion to see the scars of the last glacial at the Geopark Sjællands Odde.

Paul Vallelonga telling us about impurities in ice cores (photo: Alexander Weinhart).
Everyone is enjoying a coffee break on top (photo: Alexander Weinhart).
First stop of our excursion, the third highest point of Sealand (photo: Alexander Weinhart).

Thursday morning was focused on gases and dating of ice cores and followed by an afternoon of discussing ice core variability and a lecture on Dansgaard-Oeschger events. On Friday we learned about dust and impurities and how glacier models are used to estimate annual layer thicknesses and reconstruct accumulation rates. This was followed by some ice core statistics including examples on the misuse of statistics. “With a lot of free parameters you can fit everything!” The day was concluded with a nice ICAT dinner.


Paul Vallelonga telling us about impurities in ice cores (photo: Alexander Weinhart).

Saturday started out with a lecture on atmospheric and ocean dynamics focusing on the bipolar seesaw. This was followed by a great lecture about the search for the oldest ice on Earth within the Beyond EPICA project. After the wrap up of the summer school around noon, there was an extra treat for people interested in Antarctica. A guest lecturer from Tromsø gave an introduction on Quantarctica, a free GIS package for Antarctica.

This ended a great and informative course on ice core related science. For those of you who did not get the chance to attend this course, be sure to sign up for ICAT 2018!

Ice2ice participation in ACDC Summer school

by ice2ice postdoc Anne-Katrine Faber

Anne-Katrine Faber presenting her research- in addition to student presentations, every morning started with 1 hour where students summarized the previous days lectures.
ice2ice postdoc Anne-Katrine Faber presenting her research- in addition to student presentations, every morning started with 1 hour where students summarized the previous days lectures.

During the period 10-22. September 25 students and 10 lecturers travelled to Rondvassbu in Norway to join join this years Advanced Climate Dynamics Courses (ACDC). From the ice2ice project. Kerim Nisancioglu joined as a lecturer and organizer and Mads Poulsen and Anne-Katrine Faber joined as students.

The purpose of the summer school was to explore the role of the seasonal cycle in the climate system. Lectures explained the role of the seasonal cycle in the ocean, atmosphere, land and ice and gave insights into cutting edge research questions exploring how the seasonal cycle can be used as a tool to understand climate change.

Evidence for the power of the seasonal cycle
Evidence for the power of the seasonal cycle

In between lectures, students worked on group projects. These projects gave the students hands on experience in the analysis of models, observations and proxy records with a focus on better understanding the seasonal cycle across time scales.

Zan Stine from San Francisco State University mountain tree ring samples for analysis

A two-day field excursion gave everyone an excellent opportunity to explore the beautiful nature of Rondane National Park.  Hikes to interesting geological sites included engaging discussions on the processes that shaped the local landscape over the past thousand to several hundred thousand years.

ice2ce PhD student Mads Poulsen getting ready for 2 days in the field.

Outreach activities were also a part of the school. The students got a chance to share their newly achieved knowledge with the local community.  Two high school classes came to visit and they learned more about life as a scientist and how tree rings can be used to reconstruct past climate variability.

Overall the ACDC has been a fantastic experience with exiting lectures and   plenty of opportunities for networking, discussion and development of new research ideas. Not only did we learn the power of the seasonal cycle, the largest climate change of our time, we also experienced it first hand as we were surprised by a snow storm in the second week of the “summer” school.


Ice2ice visits Arendalsuka – a political festival in southern Norway

by Kerim Nisancioglu & Silje Smith-Johnsen

Silje Smith-Johnsen, captain Kerim Nisancioglu and Øyvind Paasche at their “outdoor office” in Arendal, on their way to Merdø.

Sparking off this year governmental election campaign in Norway, Arendalsuka, a political festival in southern Norway, was crowded with top-level politicians and organisations. During the week of the festival, ice2ice scientists organised a joint ice talk and ice concert in the main square of Arendal showcasing ice2ice research on ice and climate. In addition we guided local kindergarten children and high school pupils on a geological and climate tour on Merdø, a tiny island in the new Norwegian marine national park just outside of Arendal, introducing the kids to the geology and history of the deglaciation in the area, as well as putting the past into the context of future changes expected on Greenland.

Silje Smith-Johnsen telling a fairytale to kindergarten kids about the fate of the eratic stone “stein” who was brought by the ice from Oslo to Merdø during the last ice age.

Ice2ice scientists involved in the EastGRIP ice core drilling projects

Ice core research is one of the key research areas of the Ice2ice project. A great number of scientists from the ice2ice project are this summer participating in the drilling of a new ice core.  This ice core, the EastGRIP core is expected to contribute to the understanding of ice streams and their role in future sea level rise. 

By: Anne-Katrine Faber, Kerim Nisanciouglu and Helle Astrid Kjær

Surrounded by nothing but snow and ice, the ice core drilling camp EastGRIP is located in the northeastern interior of the Greenland ice sheet. Here up to 35 people work towards the same goal, to drill and analyze the EastGRIP ice core.

The ice cores are drilled and analyzed in trenches, “the ice caves”, and approx. 7 meters below the snow surface. Here, far away from the sunlight, the ice caves function as a natural freezer and creates perfect conditions for drilling, logging, cutting and analyzing ice cores.


The entrance to the ice core trenches (Picture: Kerim Nisanciouglu)

EastGRIP is located on top of more than 2,5 km of ice. The ice core is not drilled as one single long core from surface to bottom, but consist of a large number of 2-meter core sections. In order to keep track of the depth of all of these ice core pieces, logging of the ice cores are crucial.  Helle Astrid Kjær is one of the ice core loggers from the ice2ice project this year.

Each time the ice core drillers have drilled a new ice core section, the ice core loggers take over and make sure that the ice core sections are well matched and logged. Helle Astrid Kjær explains:

“Each 2 meter ice core section has to be matched well with the previous ice core. This way we know the total depth as well as orientation of each ice core section. The length of the new piece is to be very accurately recorded. Further we mark 55 cm sections, each 55 cm section is called an ice core bag and gets a number, before storing the core in the core buffer. The core is cut prior to storage into 3 bags length (1.65 m) and rest until the science trench takes over the processing”’


 Ice2ice Helle Kjær and Korean colleague Khangyuan pointing towards bag 1000, which was logged, the in the end of June: (Photo: Helle Astrid Kjær)

When the ice core is logged, the next task is to cut and process the core. This is done in the “Science trench”. Kerim Nisanciouglu & Sarah Berben spent most of their time underground in the Science trench of EastGRIP with a great team of colleagues from Denmark, Italy and China processing the ice cores. This included, cutting, describing, cleaning, measuring and packing the 400 meters of ice extracted this season as well as the firn core extracted from the surface in 2016.

Kerim Nisanciouglus main task was measuring Electrical Conductivity (ECM) on a clean surface of the archive piece before packing.  “During the weeks we found multiple volcanic events including notable ones such as Laki, Tambora and Krakatoa. We also tried to follow historical events and music (!) from the period we processed. The latter proved to be hard once we passed 1200AD, but it was a great journey through time with lots of fun discussions throughout the climate record.”


Kerim in the Science Trench showing ECM measurements (Picture: Kerim Nisanciouglu)

Sarah Berben took care of another important study of volcanic events, the processing of the core for Tephra measurements. These measurements allow is to study ash particles from volcanic events located in the ice core.  Later, comparison of ice cores and ocean sediments cores creates possibilities for synchronization of the two different types of climate archives.

The team of Kerim and Sarah processed a record 70 bags during one day (!) and managed to finish processing down to about 400 m several days before time. Below this point the ice started to become more fragile as we approached the brittle zone and it was decided to sore and let the remaining ice rest before processing next year.

pic4The processing team of Kerim and Sarah celebrating their achievements in the Science Trench (Picture: Kerim Nisanciouglu)

Far away from the cold temperatures in the science trench, Anne-Katrine Faber were sampling snow from the surface. As part of the surface science project, she contributed to the ongoing work of understanding how the water isotopes in the snow and air are interacting.  This including daily measurements of snow at different depth, snow height measurements in the “bamboo forest” and monitoring of the isotopic composition of the water vapor in the atmosphere at different heights above the snow surface.


Anne-Katrine digging holes for snow pack measurements and transporting the samples back using skis and a sled.  (Photo: Anne-Katrine Faber)

Whether you normally work with ocean, atmosphere or ice is not relevant when you are at EastGRIP. Everybody works towards the same common goal, to drill and analyze an ice core.  During this work, scientific discussions and collaborations happens spontaneous, probably as a result of the mix of modelers and experimentalist and their different research interests.


A view of inside of the Dome during dinner time (Picture: Anne-Katrine Faber)

Overall the Ice2Ice scientists that got the privilege to join EastGRIP this summer got a fieldwork experience that included scientific achievements, beneficial discussions and last but not least a great del of fun.

pic7A view of the EastGRIP camp and the flag line showing the many different nations present in camp at the given time.  (Picture: Kerim Nisanciouglu)

Links for more information:

EastGRIP website:

Watch this video:


Instagram: or #EastGRIP and #EGRIP

2 new ice2ice PhD positions at UiB

Both positions are placed in Bergen, Norway at the Bjerknes centre for climate research.

One is focusing on developing a detailed chronology and synchronizing climatic time series between marine and ice core records through tephra studies, the other on climate dynamics and the interactions between the marine terminating ice caps, ocean circulation and Arctic sea ice.

Deadline for the application(s) is June 10th.

About the project/work tasks:

  • The successful candidates will be part of the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research ( and the ERC project ice2ice.
  • The ice2ice project (Arctic Sea Ice and Greenland Ice Sheet Sensitivity) is an ERC funded synergy project jointly run by the University of Bergen, the University of Copenhagen (, UNI Research Climate (, and the Danish Meteorological Institute.
  • The focus of ice2ice is to investigate the cause and future implications of past abrupt changes in Arctic sea ice and climate on the Greenland ice sheet.
  • The PhD project will be designed based on the candidates background

Position 1

  • The position will focus on developing a detailed chronology and synchronizing climatic time series between marine and ice core records through tephra studies.
  • The work will contribute to the understanding of the stability of Arctic sea ice during cold climates of the past as well as future warm climates.


Position 2

  • The position will focus on climate dynamics and the interactions between the marine terminating ice caps, ocean circulation and Arctic sea ice.
  • The work will contribute to the understanding of the stability of Arctic sea ice during cold climates of the past as well as future warm climates.

EGU 2017

Rasmus Pedersen (NBI postdoc), Anne-Katrine Faber (UiB postdoc) and Henning Åkesson (UiB PhD) at EGU 2017.

Ice2ice was well represented at this years European Geophysical meeting (EGU). 14,496 scientists from 107 countries participated in the meeting, of which 53% were early career scientists (under the age of 35 years).

Over the course of the 5 day long meeting, ice2ice contributed heavily with 4 sessions:

  • Quaternary climate archives and proxy uncertainty (Nora and Hening)
  • The state-of-the-art in ice coring sciences (co-organized) (Paul)
  • Understanding, representing and communicating earth system processes in weather and climate (Jens)
  • Decadal to millennial scale climate variability of the late Quaternary (Joel, Helle, Mari, Kerim, Markus, Ruth)
Many people was present during the ice2ice session: Decadal to millennial scale climate variability of the late Quaternary
Many people was present during the ice2ice session: Decadal to millennial scale climate variability of the late Quaternary

Besides the high number of sessions with ice2ice conveners, ice2ice contributed more than 20 talks and a similar number of posters. A close to full list of ice2ice contributions by day can be found here.

Prior to the EGU 2017 meeting. Ice2ice people met up in Bergen to prepare the talks.
Prior to the EGU 2017 meeting. Ice2ice people met up in Bergen to prepare the talks.

Further ice2ice was represented in the EGU cinema, where the movies created by ice2ice was each shown twice over the course of the week. You can watch the movies here in case you missed them at EGU.

Finally on wednesday a social was held for ice2ice people and friends. More than 50 people joined.

What should we tell the children?



As part of a focus week on climate change at the danish national radio ice2ice researcher Ruth Mottram sat down and explained her 6 yr old kid Sofia about climate change and the consequences for Sofias future.

Similarly ice2ice Primary investigator had a talk with his nieces Siri and Marie, who are 9 and 11 years old.

See the conversations (in danish) here and here.


NEGIS workshop in Bergen

By ice2ice PhD Iben Koldtoft

The two-day Ice2Ice NEGIS workshop took place in end of March in Bergen city, Norway. The focus on the workshop was the North Eastern Greenland Ice Stream (NEGIS); ice-ocean interactions in the past and the present.

ice2ice researcher Ruth Mottram on Surface Mass Balance of the NEGIS ice stream. Since the meeting was hold in Bergen the pointer was an umbrella!
ice2ice researcher Ruth Mottram on Surface Mass Balance of the NEGIS ice stream. Since the meeting was hold in Bergen the pointer was an umbrella!

We were 29 participants, with many new faces to the Ice2Ice network, from Norway, Denmark, Germany, the US, and UK. Both the cryosphere, atmosphere and ocean’s influence of the dynamic of the ice stream was discussed during the two days. NEGIS is a key player to understand the dynamic of the Greenland Ice Sheet, since is drains a large portion of the ice sheet, and its interaction with the surrounding ocean (e.g. fresh water fluxes) and atmosphere (e.g. surface mass balance), which all are important for the research questions of the Ice2Ice project.

The format of the workshop allowed the participants to present data, which provided a good basis for further discussion, where we both discussed the NEGIS in the past, but also the recent changes in the NEGIS region, both in the ocean, the atmosphere and for the ice itself.

The goal of the workshop was to find out what groups are doing of research at NEGIS and start collaboration. There was many opportunities for the first mentioned during the two days of presentations, while there was an opportunity to start collaboration up by latter during both days of walk-and-talk sessions in the nearby park.

The outcome of the workshop was that we will probably have a next NEGIS workshop in connection with Dorthe’s IceFlow project in Copenhagen. Here we will decide if we want to write a community paper with all of the questions that came out over the workshop. If you are an ice2ice collaborator you can find the questions in the summary of the workshop in the ice2ice dropbox folder.

Training for Greenland

folgefonna_2017_4942by Ellen Viste from the Bjerkness centre

Thirteen people from the Bjerknes Centre and Ice2Ice partners participated in a safety course at Folgefonna 29–31 March. The goal was to prepare the crew that will work on the EastGRIP drilling station in northeastern Greenland the coming summers. Instructed by guides from Folgefonni breførarlag, the participants learned about glacier safety and safe travel in the mountains.

The course started with a nine-hour hike to Fonnabu (1450 m.a.s.l.), getting above the heavy fog just in time to see the sunset and the glacier. The next day, strong winds made the living-room the obvious place for practicing knots and pulleys. The weather later improved enough to allow more realistic rescue operations – not in a crevasse, but in a small slope behind the cabin. Anyone who have tried to drag people up a hill will know that this is by no means less strenuous. The last day was spent getting down from Fonnabu and at the shooting range in Jondal.