Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Megascale icebergs run aground

11.08.2014

Finding the deepest iceberg scours to date provides new insights into the Arctic’s glacial past

Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have found between Greenland and Spitsbergen the scours left behind on the sea bed by gigantic icebergs. The five lineaments, at a depth of 1,200 metres, are the lowest-lying iceberg scours yet to be found on the Arctic sea floor.


Polarsterns Fächersonarsystem

Polarstern's multibeam system (Illustration: Alfred-Wegener-Institut)

This finding provides new understanding of the dynamics of the Ice Age and the extent of the Arctic ice sheet thousands of years ago. In addition, the researchers could draw conclusions about the export of fresh water from the Arctic into the North Atlantic. The AWI scientists have published their findings in the online portal of the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Whenever icebergs run aground, they leave scours on the seabed. Depending on their depth and location, those markings may continue to exist over long periods of time,” explained Jan Erik Arndt, AWI bathymetrician and lead author for this paper.

It is traces exactly like this that he, together with three colleagues at AWI, discovered on the Hovgaard Ridge. The Hovgaard Ridge is a plateau in the deep Arctic Sea, located a good 400 kilometres off of Greenland’s eastern coast. Found at a depth of 1,200 metres the five lineaments are the deepest iceberg scours found to date in the Arctic. The scours are as much as four kilometres long and 15 metres in depth.

“Such scours are a window into the past. Thanks to these iceberg scours we now know that a few very large, but also many smaller icebergs, passed across the Hovgaard Ridge,” the scientist said.

The discovery of the scours on Hovgaard Ridge was fortuitous and by no means the result of a defined search. Jan Erik Arndt and his colleagues discovered the lineaments when examining bathymetric data from the year 1990. The data were collected by the research ship Polarstern while preparing cartography for the Fram Strait. “When we examined the data once again and in greater detail, we became aware of the scours. Given their depth, it quickly became clear that we had found something very interesting,” says Jan Erik Arndt.

The scientists today work with better hardware and software than what was available in the 1990s. This new technology allows closer scrutiny of the old data. That is why the scours have surfaced on the scientists’ monitors only now, 24 years after the data were collected.

The scientists can, however, only roughly bracket the period within which the icebergs scoured the ridge crest. It is clear, however, that it must have taken place within the past 800,000 years. Since sea level during the glacial period was a good 120 metres lower than today, the icebergs reached to a depth of at least 1,080 metres below sea level. Since about a tenth of an iceberg will, as a rule, be exposed, AWI scientists estimate the height of the iceberg to be roughly 1,200 metres – about three times the height of the Empire State Building. “To calve such megascale icebergs, the edge of the ice sheet covering the Arctic Ocean must have been at least 1,200 metres thick,” Jan Erik Arndt notes.

Today scientists search in vain for such megascale icebergs. “We currently find the largest icebergs in the Antarctic. The very biggest reach only 700 metres below the water’s surface,” noted the bathymetrician. One remaining riddle is the birthplace of the massive icebergs that scraped Hovgaard Ridge. The AWI scientists suggest that two areas off the northern coast of Russia are the most likely sites.

The researchers are interested in these scours not only because of the size of the icebergs. The traces have caused a flare up in the old discussion about how fresh water was transported from the Arctic and into the Atlantic Ocean. In the past, some scientists assumed that thick sea ice was primarily responsible for fresh water export from the Arctic. The newly discovered scours, however, support another hypothesis: Large icebergs drifted southward through the Fram Strait, carrying large volumes of frozen fresh water into the North Atlantic.

Numerous studies make the increased imports of fresh water responsible for the end of North Atlantic deep water formation at the close of the last ice age. As a consequence, the Gulf Stream ebbed, making for drastic cooling in Europe. Since the currents in the Atlantic are an important engine, driving the global system of circulation, the effects were perceived around the world. “The fact that icebergs of this order of magnitude were driven from the Arctic is clear evidence that icebergs played a more serious role in freshwater imports than what we had previously assumed,” Jan Erik Arndt concludes.

Notes for Editors:
Printable photos and graphics are available at http://www.awi.de/en/news/press_releases/.

The technical article appeared in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters:
Jan Erik Arndt, Frank Niessen, Wilfried Jokat, Boris Dorschel: Deep water paleo-iceberg scouring on top of Hovgaard Ridge–Arctic Ocean, DOI: 10.1002/2014GL060267 (Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL060267/abstract)

To obtain further scientific details from the Alfred Wegener Institute, please contact:
• Jan Erik Arndt (Phone: +49-471-4831-1369, e-mail: Jan.Erik.Arndt(at)awi.de)

In the AWI Press Office, Ms. Anne Kliem (Phone: +49-471-4831-2006, e-mail: medien(at)awi.de) is available for further questions.

Follow the Alfred Wegener Institute on Twitter (https://twitter.com/#!/AWI_de) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/AlfredWegenerInstitut). In this way you receive all the current reports as well as information on interesting everyday stories drawn from the work and people of the Institute.

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and mid-latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Ralf Röchert | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: AWI Arctic Atlantic Helmholtz-Zentrum Meeresforschung Ocean iceberg

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

nachricht Modeling magma to find copper
13.01.2017 | Université de Genève

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecule flash mob

19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Rabies viruses reveal wiring in transparent brains

19.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Global threat to primates concerns us all

19.01.2017 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>