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> July 24, 2006 - Kongressvatnet, The Joy of Asking Questions
post Jul 25 2006, 08:31 PM
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Today we split into two groups. One group went across the valley to meet up with a field trip lead by Ólafur Ingólfsson, a professor we met at UNIS. He was going onto the “87 meter terrace”. The terrace is a really well preserved feature high up above the valley floor that shows very old marine sediments covered by glacial deposits. What makes this so interesting is that 87 meters is about 20 meters higher than other terraces like this. This is important in our study because the height of glacial deposits tells us a lot about recent climate.

How can this be? Well, when a glacier covers the landscape, it is very heavy and presses down on the surface of the earth known as the lithosphere. This depresses it into a gooier layer below the lithosphere, called the asthenosphere. The thicker the ice, the heavier the glacier, the greater the depression. THEN, as the glacier melts and retreats, the land gets a chance to slowly rise up again, bringing features like glacial deposits up high above where they formed. This is called glacial rebound. The presence of the 87 meter terrace so much higher than most others suggests that perhaps the Linne Glacier was MUCH bigger and heavier than we have thought before. This would directly relate to climatic conditions at the time.

Ólafur’s group of graduate students is traveling on the Stockholm for several weeks, and getting off at different spots every day for field trips. They gave us a good polar bear story which I thought you might enjoy! If you do not want to ready a polar bear story, skip past the blue section!

The graduate group was on a beach looking at some fossils and had walked down from the central location where their Zodiac boats and survival suites had been secured. The Stockholm was moored out a bit but could see them as they walked. Someone on the Stockholm saw a bear following the group, as a distance of about 200 m, and radioed the group on the beach. By this point, the Stockholm was worried, and had deployed a Zodiac and motored in toward shore with flare guns to scare the bear off. They approached shore, and shot two flares. Neither one seemed to affect the bear, so they motored back to the boat for more flairs! Meanwhile, the story goes that the students were taking pictures of the bear, but not interacting with him / her at all. The second set of flairs had more effect, but when the students went back to the boats and suites left on the beach, it was apparent that the bear had enjoyed munching on the hood of one of the suites! This is only a second hand story and only a few days old, and I hope I have portrayed it accurately, but you know how it is with bear stories! We just hope that the bear does not visit us next!

I was in the second group, and we went on a big hike up and around the funny little lake perched up above the valley I mentioned yesterday, called Kongressvatnet. This is the lake that Trina and Espen are studying. It is extremely beautiful and has some very odd terrain that we were all trying to figure out.

View of Kongress Toward the Northwest
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Kongress is about 90 m or so above the Linne Valley, and like most spots in the area, a good vertical climb up. The landscape up there is very strange, with pattered ground, huge kames (cones left by melting ice) and chaotic piles of material that might be pieces of very old or quite young moraines. The scale is really hard to explain, and the pictures I had seen did not prepare me for what I found.

South Side of Kongress

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Part of the Very Chaotic Terrain
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Patterned Ground at Kongress
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Aren’t these features cool? I think they are really fun. We walk over things like this every day in many parts of the valley. Some are very soft in the middle and others are not. As soil and rock freeze and thaw, the material rises up and sinks, similar to a boiling motion. Some are called sorted polygons, some rock boils, frost wedges, etc…

Patterned Ground at Linne (note 87 meter terrace on the far wall of the valley)
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Running Across Glacial Ninja!
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This day was a highlight for me because of the true and pure nature of discovery through exploration. This place is not well understood, and although brilliant people have studied it for years, there are TONS of unknowns, hunches, ideas, questions and more questions that tickle and needle us as we walk around. “What would form that”? “Let’s climb up there and see if the fold continues” “Would the ice be able to spill out this way too”? “Why is the lake so deep though”? “Is there underground spring water coming into it – it is sulfurous smelling” “Where did that gypsum pile come from”? And nobody really has answers but us.

And we have the technology to figure out a lot. You have seen all those pictures of us hauling equipment, right? Well, this is high tech stuff, and it is useless without questions. Now that we are getting familiar with the system, we can start asking the really good questions that our equipment can support. It is absolutely thrilling.

It is all up to us to see it and try to understand it – we are the experts for the moment and if we want to understand it, it is up to us get up every morning, fortify ourselves with food, cover our tired bodies with protective clothing, head out ready to ask questions and be enthusiastic enough to climb up that crazy peak to see evidence that helps us understand it all one piece at a time. And then we are ready to ask the next question, and then the next. This is science at its best, at its most simple and inspiring. We are so very lucky to have had the schooling to be able to sort out our ideas and progress one step at a time! This is truly an amazing educational adventure for all of us and I’ll send out a collective thank you to all the people that are supporting us back at home right now. We are having a blast.

Leif Skis the Snowbank in Style
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