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UM Geoscience Dept. sends expedition to Greenland glaciers - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

UM Geoscience Dept. sends expedition to Greenland glaciers

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The research team takes 18,000 pounds of drilling equipment with them, and drills holes of up to 900 meters deep. The research team takes 18,000 pounds of drilling equipment with them, and drills holes of up to 900 meters deep.
These trips have become a vital part of UM science research. These trips have become a vital part of UM science research.
MISSOULA -

The Geoscience Department at the University of Montana has been embarking on a quest far north to make new scientific discoveries. 

"It's nice to get out of the lab and have a different life that doesn't involve making instruments or learning computer models," said UM Geoscience professor Joel Harper. "It's, you're out there doing physical labor in an exciting place." 

Harper at UM takes his students on an unconventional field trip several times a year. He and around eight researchers fly to Greenland where they camp out for five to six weeks gathering data on glacial ice.

"I think that everyone in our group is really excited about what we do and it's such a fascinating subject to study," said UM Graduate student Ben Hills. "I think it's really relevant to what's going on in the world today." 

Hills joined the team for an expedition this summer. He built devices that can measure the temperature of the ice. The research team takes 18,000 pounds of drilling equipment with them, and drills holes of up to 900 meters deep. 

Caitlyn Florentine is another graduate student that accompanied Harper this year. She was responsible for collecting ground radar data, which helps analyze the movements of the ice sheets. 

"We go out and send an electromagnetic wave into the subsurface, and that wave bounces off layers within the ice and then we can come back and take that data and take a picture of the ice surface so that we know where the bedrock underneath the ice is located," Florentine said. 

A new addition to the trips this year is a lab funded by a grant from NASA. Computer Science students work closely with the geoscientists. The job of the CS students is to break down the data collected in the field. 

"As a computer scientist or a modeler, you can kind of get lost in this mathematical world, and if you don't have data to constrain what you're doing, the results aren't very scientifically useful," said UM graduate student Jacob Downs. 

These trips have become a vital part of UM science research. Harper says their findings have led to new information about how ice sheets in Greenland contribute to sea levels. 

"One of the things that we're finding is that the Glacier ice sheets move very fast by sliding with ice over the bedrock," Harper said. "So it moves two ways, the ice deforms, or the ice slides under the bedrock underneath. And with a lot of melt around, it's actually sliding very fast." 

Harper has more trips planned for next April and July.

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