The February 10, 2005 edition of the international journal Nature features a cover story on "fractures as the main pathways of water flow in temperate glaciers," co-authored by Portland State University Prof. Andrew Fountain, Cleveland High School Teacher Robert Schlichting and two other researchers.
The paper outlines the findings of a research project conducted in Sweden during the summers from 2001 to 2003. The researchers set out to test the commonly accepted hypothesis that water flowed through glaciers primarily through a network of tubular conduits. What they found, however, was that the water actually traveled through a network of cracks found at all levels of the glacier. According to the paper, understanding water flow through the body of a glacier is important because it bears on the spatial distribution of water and rate of infiltration to the glacier bottom, which helps to controls water storage and pressure, and influences glacier motion including surging and the release of glacial outburst floods. These new findings will cause scientists to rethink how water moves through a glacier.
Another important outcome of the work is the observation of deep fractures in glaciers. Such deep fractures were thought unlikely, but may prove to be an important process. The catastrophic collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica in 2002 is thought to have resulted from water-filled fractures penetrating deep into the ice. The new findings by Fountain and his colleagues provide evidence for the existence of fractures deep in glaciers. This has important implications for both Greenland and Antarctica; Ice shelves (floating glaciers) around both continents can shatter in a few weeks time rather than melting slowly in place over centuries and result in an abrupt response to climate warming rather than a slow measured response.
Schlichting, who teaches chemistry and physics at Cleveland High School, got involved with PSU's glacial research in the late 1990s when he went on a trip to Alaska with PSU scientists as a part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded program to include teachers in Arctic field research to bring their real-world experiences back to their classrooms. His efforts on that trip inspired Fountain to include him on another NSF-funded project that resulted in this study in Sweden. Schlichting's work in the field earned him authorship on the paper featured in Nature. Other researchers credited on the paper are Robert W. Jacobel, Department of Physics, St. Olaf College and Peter Jansson, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University.
Recently, three glaciers in Antarctica were named for researchers in PSU's Geology department. The Fountain Glacier, Hulbe Glacier and Nylen Glacier were designated by the U.S. Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names in recognition of the work conducted by Prof. Andrew Fountain, Prof. Christina Hulbe, and Mr. Thomas Nylen. PSU's Geology department has a significant presence in the Antarctic, with a mix of graduate students, researchers and faculty on-site each year from November to January. PSU scientists are looking at how glaciers are reacting to global climate change and the resulting impact of glacier melt on ecosystem processes, in partnership with researchers from other universities such as Dartmouth, The Ohio State University, and the University of Colorado.
Portland State University, Oregon's only urban university is the largest and most diverse in the state system. The University's position in Oregon's economic and cultural center allows for deep community engagement and the creation of partnerships with hundreds of organizations throughout the region - partnerships that give PSU students valuable learning opportunities as they solve real-world problems of business and community. Portland State offers more than 100 undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees, as well as graduate certificates and continuing education programs. PSU serves more students and confers more master's degrees annually than any other Oregon university.
# # #
Prof. Andrew Fountain (503-725-3386)
Department of Geology