Post from a Scientist: Glacier’s Slippery Shoes

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Here, it’s possible for you or the glacier to slip.

Dealing with slippery surfaces is perhaps one of the very first physical phenomena that we deal with as kids. It is always challenging to keep your balance, not to fall down, or not to break your bones. Similar to any other kids, I always asked my father why he drives slower on rainy days. The answer was the same to all of these questions. Friction!

Surprisingly, my research ended up being in a similar realm. Ice sits on the solid ground, a massive 2-3km thick cold block. But that poor block also suffers from the same imbalance that I had as a kid as my shoes slipped on the ground where I was walking when the ground was wet. That’s right, the block slides faster, just like me. It goes down the slope where it is sitting, and falls into the ocean. That’s why we want to know if the glacier’s “shoes” are wet or not!

A large number of physical sciences come together and help develop tools like satellites, in-the-field measurement techniques, and computer models, so that we can estimate the temperature at the bottom of the ice sheet. This way I can see whether the ice sheet and I are sharing the same slippery experience!

- Soroush, University of Kansas, USA

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2 Responses to Post from a Scientist: Glacier’s Slippery Shoes

  1. Jessica says:

    Have you found out how cold these glaciers are at the bottom?

    • Soroush says:

      Hi Jessica,
      It is fair to say that temperature at depth represents the history of the past climate. But the changes in past surface climate conditions are countered by how much heat is coming from the Earth’s interior, known as geothermal heat. The geothermal heat also varies significantly at different regions. So, depending on which is stronger, there can be some regions that the temperature at the bottom is close to zero (which means ice is melting at the base), and some regions that they might be much colder.

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