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Northeast Greenland Caves Project

EC CommunityJames HipkissComment

 

We are crowdfunding to try and raise the remaining funds that are needed for this climate-research expedition. Please visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/northeast-greenland-caves-project to support this highly-important work! During the summer of 2015, a highly-motivated 5-person British team will aim to visit the Arctic Circle to explore, survey, photograph, and sample caves of Northeast Greenland for the purpose of climate-change research.

This much-needed record of past climate change will be the first of its type from caves of Greenland, and will contribute significantly to our understanding of long-term climate change in Greenland and the Arctic by covering a time period that is out-of-range of the Greenland ice cores. We have been working hard to put a crowd funding project together that will go live very soon. Keep checking back here for updates about the crowdfunder and the project. The Science The main aim of our project is to obtain the first record of past climate change from Greenland caves. This important record will provide information about a past period of warm climate, and will be older than the current limit of the Greenland ice cores, thus contributing significantly to our understanding of long-term climate change in Greenland and the Arctic. Why is there a need for past climate-change records? The Earths climate is changing. How will it develop in the future? What will be the effects on environmental, ecological, and socio-economic systems?

These are simply a couple of questions related to the changes that the Earth system is about to face. In order to help us answer them, we look to the past. Records of past climate change hold useful information regarding the Earths natural climatic response; they help us understand how the Earth system has changed on timescales longer than short instrumental records; they enable us to document changes from one climate state to another; they provide a baseline against which we can assess whether or not the current changes are unusual, and; their information can be fed into predictive climate-change models. One way of trying to understand what scenarios are possible in a future warming climate, is to look at past periods of warm climate known as interglacials. The last interglacial period took place about 130,000 to 118,000 years ago, and during this time air temperature in Greenland was about 3-5C higher than today. Deep ice core climate records drilled from the Greenland ice sheet extend back continuously 123,000 years, to the final stages of the last interglacial (NGRIP core). The NEEM ice core extends back 128,500 years, to the early stages of the last interglacial, but the basal ice is folded and incomplete making interpretation difficult. The need for information about climate dynamics during past interglacial's is thus still a major, and increasingly important concern. How will this project advance our knowledge of climate change? Using cave deposits in Northeast Greenland, we have an opportunity here to improve our knowledge of climate dynamics during a past interglacial.

The cave record will most certainly cover a time period that pre-dates the last interglacial and hence the oldest limits of the Greenland ice-core records. Water drips onto a stalagmite containing information related to temperature, moisture, and vegetation processes above the cave. Calcite cave deposits are formed from drip waters that have percolated from the surface, through soil and limestone, and into a cave. Since the drip waters were once connected with the atmosphere and soil above the cave, they contain valuable information related to temperature, moisture, and vegetation processes, which are then locked layer upon layer into the cave deposit. An analytical track passes through the stalagmite. The climate record is created by analysing the chemical signature of each layer. For high-resolution studies, the Innsbruck Quaternary Research Group typically analyses between 4-10 samples per millimetre, allowing us the greatest chance of capturing rapid climate change events in our record. Understanding how fast the climate is capable of changing from one state to another is currently one of the key questions that climate-change scientists are working to answer.

The Expedition - Hopefully, all being well with the organisation, logistics, and finances, our expedition will take place during the summer of 2015. Thanks to Clive Johnson, polar explorer and winner of the Polar Medal (2001), we have a fabulous plan in place for undertaking the expedition and maximising research whilst we are there. We intend to land on a small air strip in Northeast Greenland, close to the southwestern end of a c.10 km wide lake. From here, we shall cross the lake in an inflatable boat to the eastern shore where we will set up our main base camp. In order to reach the caves containing the deposits of interest, we will then trek over difficult shattered terrain for three days. Once our work sampling deposits is complete, we will retrace our steps back to base camp and across the lake, searching all the time for new previously undiscovered caves. Our main objective will be to sample cave deposits for use in construction of the first record of past climate change from Greenland that is older than the current limit of the ice cores. Scientific partner Prof.

Christoph Sptl of the Innsbruck Quaternary Research Group, has pioneered a method for sampling cave deposits that causes minimal damage, and it is this method that we shall adopt during the course of our expedition. In addition to sampling deposits, all caves will be surveyed and photographed to a high standard. During our expedition, Project Leader Gina Moseley will lead the scientific assault, Clive Johnson will act as the local expert and guide, Robbie Shone will document the story of the expedition and in particular any new discoveries, Mark Wright and Chris Blakeley will offer support and technical caving expertise, particularly with regard to entering caves located in cliff faces.