Have You Seen a Rubber Ducky Near Greenland? Please Call NASA

By Eliza Strickland | December 22, 2008 2:35 pm

rubber duckiesThree 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.

Related Content:
80beats: 2 Trillion Tons of Polar Ice Lost in 5 Years, and Melting Is Accelerating
80beats: Floods Beneath Antarctica’s Ice Sheet Create a Glacial Slip-and-Slide

Image: flickr / Gaeten Lee

  • Jumblepudding

    cutest pollution ever

  • spiffy

    What numbskull put PLASTIC in the ocean?? It’s just going to eventually break apart and never decompose… shesh.

  • Buk

    Pollution is a concern and I wonder how many of those were mistaken for food and are now clogging the stomach of some whale.

  • I say

    This was a NASA project??

  • Dee Jay

    “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.”

    Well, well, well! There’s that old Al Gore mis-characterization of the world’s climate in constant change as it warms AND cools. Global warming exists only with the context of cyclical warming and cooling.

    You’ll notice that the proponents of “global warming” can’t support, with facts and statistics, their pet boondoggle, so now they call it climate change.

    Ms. Eliza Strickland would do well to do the work to thoroughly research the subject before she accepts premise and publically writes about it.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    Anyone wishing to do some more research on the subject (that includes you Dee Jay as it seems you don’t know why climatologists prefer the term “climate change”), may I recommend


    which is a one-stop resource link to learning about climate change. They link to many of the sources which are also excellent places to learn even more. And you’ll find out which arguments are now discredited and why (again with documentation so you can see for yourself). That way no-one wastes time using discredited arguments (they seem to have unlimited life on the internet and keep coming back from the dead long after further research has dealt with them).

    Also check out sciencedaily.com, if you don’t already (I imagine most readers here know of this site). It deals with research from all fields of science so there is something for everyone with an interest in science. What I like about it is that you’ll see for yourself what the researchers are finding rather than relying on blogs, opinion columnists, science fiction authors, and politicians (Al Gore included) interpreting what the researchers are finding. The articles usually report where to find the original paper so if you think sciencedaily.com has summarized things incorrectly, you can track down the original paper or even the authors.

    Happy researching.

  • Lacey

    Hello, I am a girl scout and I am reasearching these rubber duckies for our studie on Greenland. I find this fasinating but what if not every duck is found. Like others have said isn’t this poulution. Great study though very creative!

  • Rodrick Akuna

    I salute you, I really enjoy the way u wrote the story?- perhaps you can take a look at my net page and make some tipps. thanks beforehand


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