Three months ago 90 rubber duckies set out on a perilous adventure, sliding down deep holes in a Greenland ice sheet that were expected to carry them eventually out to the ocean. In an experiment designed to shed light on the gradual melting of Greenland’s glaciers due to global warming, the duckies were deposited into moulins (tubular holes) in the Jakobshavn Glacier in mid-September by Alberto Behar, a robotics expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The idea was that the ducks would float along the same channels that melt waters do, and wherever they emerged would reveal the path of the disappearing ice [Scientific American].
But thus far the researchers who have been eagerly awaiting news of the duckies’ arrival in the ocean have been disappointed, and they’re now putting out a loud call for sailors, fishermen, and cruise passengers to keep their eyes peeled for bobbing specks of yellow on the waves. The $2 ducks were chosen for their buoyancy and for their durability in low temperatures. Nasa is offering $100 to the first person who finds a duck. The toys are stamped with an email address and the word “reward” in three languages, including Inuit [Telegraph].
They haven’t given up on the ducks, researcher Behar says, although hopes are fading. “We haven’t heard anything from them yet,” said … Behar. “If somebody does find one, it will be a great breakthrough for us” [BBC News]. Also missing is a considerably more high-tech piece of equipment, a probe called the Moulin Explorer that was expected to slip down the chutes while recording its speed and the glacial conditions. The probe was also equipped with a GPS system and a satellite modem link to allow it to “phone home” with its location. “We did not hear a signal back so it probably got stuck under the ice somewhere,” said Dr Behar. “It was a bit of a long shot but we thought it was worth a try. We’ve got to go back and scratch our heads and think about what we do next” [BBC News].
The Jakobshavn Glacier is Greenland’s fastest moving glacier, and it has sped up in recent years; between 1997 and 2003 its speed doubled from 3.5 miles per year to 7.8 miles per year, according to NASA research. How drastically glaciers will be affected by global warming and how much their melt water will raise sea levels are two of the big questions in global warming research. The moulins are thought to play an important part in glacier movements, as the melt water that spills down to the glacier’s base can act as a lubricant, letting the ice slide more easily over the rock.
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Image: flickr / Gaeten Lee