Caltech's Seismological Laboratory, an arm of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS), was established in 1921. It has a distinguished history of leadership in science and serving the public interest. Internationally recognized for excellence in geophysical research and academics while also having outstanding facilities in seismic networks, high performance computing, and mineral physics, makes the Seismo Lab an ideal place for study and research. The Lab serves as a focal point for earthquake information in Southern California and the world.
Monitoring Iceland's Glaciers
Mark Simons, professor of geophysics, and graduate student, Brent Minchew, using an airborne instrument flown on a NASA research aircraft were able to create detailed maps of how glaciers move in the dead of winter. Each flight follows precisely the same complicated path as flown in 2012. The crisscrossing flight legs allow the JPL-developed instrument, called the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR), to map the full extent of both ice caps from multiple angles to capture flows in every direction.
In June of 2012, Simons and Minchew used the same instrument to map the summer flows of two Icelandic ice caps. During the expedition, the surface ice on the glaciers was melting under the summer sun. Meltwater that trickles through the body of a glacier down to bedrock below can influence the speed in which the glacier flows. By mapping the same ice caps in winter, when the surface remains frozen all day, and then comparing the winter and summer velocities, the researchers will be able to isolate the effects of meltwater.
The two ice caps, called Hofsjökull and Langjökull, are ideal natural laboratories for this experiment, according to Simons. They're relatively uncomplicated and small enough that the scientists can readily use the data from these experiments in computer models of glacier flow without requiring a supercomputer.
The Icelanders have a long history of studying these ice caps. In particular, they have nearly complete maps of the ice-bedrock interface. These expeditions can complement this information with continuous maps of the daily movement or strain of the glacier surface as well as maps of the topography of the glacier surface. These data are then combined to constrain models of glacier dynamics.
This will help scientists better understand some of the most basic processes involved in melting glaciers, which are major contributors to rising sea levels.