The Bering Glacier is the largest and longest glacier in continental North America and is the largest temperate surging glacier on earth. The Bering Glacier has surged at least six times during the twentieth century, and the last surge occurred in 1993-1995. The Glacier is currently retreating, and scientists from MTRI have been conducting research at the Glacier during a period spanning almost a decade. MTRI's participation at the Bering Glacier is one component of an interdisciplinary team of scientists investigating the entire Bering Glacier system for the Bureau of Land Management.
To better understand the melting (ablation) of the Glacier, MTRI designed and fabricated a device to record glacier melt and movement. Today, the instrument is being deployed on the ice and records temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, and solar illumination every hour. The instrument provides, for the first time, a comprehensive measurement of glacier melt as a function of time – which can exceed 10 cm/day – and is yielding valuable new information on flow rates of the glacier.
MTRI has also been conducting water characterization measurements in Vitus Lake, a large ice-marginal lake at the terminus of the Glacier.As the Glacier has retreated, Vitus Lake has expanded rapidly in area and volume, and MTRI has been documenting the highly dynamic and evolving oligotrophic system. MTRI scientists have used an ensemble of characterization techniques including CTD casts, multi-parameter water quality profiles, surface water quality measurements using autonomous robot buoys, ADCP and lake level measurement, and development of a remote sensing-based algorithm to measure and predict turbidity — an indication of sub-glacial hydraulic routing which is tied to significant glacial events such as outburst floods or surge events.
The 2008 Bering Glacier field program involved participation from several different Michigan Tech departments. During this time, MTRI continued its glacier ablation, water quality, hydrology, terminus characterization, and remote sensing research. Michigan Tech’s geology department came back for a second field season of resistivity and seismic measurements, and their biology department continued its second year of biological and lower food web investigations of Vitus Lake.