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Anna Crawford, PhD Candidate, Carleton University

Anna Crawford is a PhD candidate at Carleton University studying the deterioration of large icebergs (“ice islands”). She is also Co-Chair of Greenpeace Canada's Board of Directors. In her spare time, Anna enjoys running, cross-country skiing, and hiking.

Since 2008, the floating ice tongue of northwestern Greenland’s Petermann Glacier has lost 500 km2 of ice through calving events, which create massive, tabular icebergs we refer to as “ice islands”. Such ice islands have also recently calved from both Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves and, as you can imagine, thousands of smaller ice islands and icebergs are generated through their deterioration.

A NASA MODIS image showing a 300 km<p><em>A NASA MODIS image showing a 300 km<p>In 2011, I was given the opportunity as a new graduate student to join a field expedition that would visit two ice islands in the Canadian Arctic. The CCGS <em>Amundsen</em>, a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker outfitted for research by ArcticNet, provided us with transport to these 14 and 60 km<sup>2</sup> ice masses. Both had originated from the 300 km<sup>2</sup> Petermann Glacier calving event that occurred in 2010. (That’s five times the size of Manhattan Island!)</p>
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The CCGS Amundsen next to an ice island in Baffin Bay. Photo credit: Lauren Candlish.

I have been researching ice island deterioration ever since that trip six years ago through the Northwest Passage, Baffin Bay and the Labrador Sea. It started with an MSc degree and has now continued with the pursuit of a PhD. Both of these will have been completed in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University.

The CCGS Amundsen’s helicopter bringing an ice island research team a sling load of equipment in 2015.

The CCGS Amundsen’s helicopter bringing an ice island research team a sling load of equipment in 2015.

Why would I stick around for seven years studying these inanimate, cold research subjects? Four points come to mind.

First, these study subjects exist as an interesting bridge between the causes and consequences of climate change. The calving events that generate ice islands have been occurring more frequently due to oceanic and atmospheric warming. Along with increasing the susceptibility of ice shelves and floating ice tongues to breakage, decreasing sea ice extents are also famously predicted to open up the world’s Polar Regions for shipping and resource extraction. However, ice islands and the fragments generated through their deterioration will pose formidable hazards to ships and resource extraction infrastructure operating in these regions.

There are numerous ways to detect the deterioration of ice, but ice islands are extremely difficult to access for setting up data collection programs. This leads to my second point. I have very much enjoyed being involved in a number of unique projects dedicated to the development of new technology, as well as the application of existing technology, for detecting the deterioration of these drifting ice features. This work, which has been conducted with others at the Water and Ice Research Lab (Carleton University) and with numerous collaborators, involves both remote and in-situ data collection.

Anna and team members installing equipment on an ice island in Baffin Bay, Nunavut, Canada. Video: Graham Clark.

One of the reasons that I enjoy geographic research is that there is often a chance to apply theory to real-world applications. Ice islands are of interest to government, academic and industrial researchers and stakeholders due to their recent connection to climate change and the varied potential consequence of their drift and deterioration on the marine ecosystem. Because of this, I feel that I’ve been able to dip my toe, so to speak, in the literature of numerous different fields of research, as well as produce results and develop research methods that will be useful to a wide audience.

Setting up a stationary ice penetrating radar system to monitor an ice island’s thickness change. Photo credit: Graham Clark.

Setting up a stationary ice penetrating radar system to monitor an ice island’s thickness change. Photo credit: Graham Clark.

Lastly are the field experiences, which have the best photo ops. Accessing the top of an ice island is a feat unto itself that can involve numerous airplane flights, ships, helicopters and/or snowmobiles. Each trip is its own adventure. Though I have been stymied more times than I’d like to count, the ever-continuing challenge of just getting to your field site makes the successful trips that much sweeter.

Anna and Jaypootie Moesesie collecting a thickness profile with ice penetrating radar in May 2016. This ice island, “PII-A-1-f”, was located close to Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut.

Anna and Jaypootie Moesesie collecting a thickness profile with ice penetrating radar in May 2016. This ice island, “PII-A-1-f”, was located close to Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut.

Due to the time crunch on field days, I find it to be difficult to stop and reflect on how amazing it is to be walking around on an iceberg so giant that you can’t even see where it ends. I am very fortunate to have been able to visit, study and share the stories of these impressive and beautiful ice features.

An ice island grounded near Baffin Island, Nunavut. Photo credit: Lauren Candlish.

An ice island grounded near Baffin Island, Nunavut. Photo credit: Lauren Candlish.

Reference:

Crawford, A.J. 2013. Ice island deterioration in the Canadian Arctic: Rates, patterns and model evaluation. MSc thesis. Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 140 pp.

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