Category Archives: Glaciology

Fieldwork 2 – Dig and Dye

Take pictures, dig and dye… repeat until you reach boredom!

In between

I was hoping to do more blog post during this fieldtrip but it looks that if you are the person in charge it’s more difficult to manage some for you and for your blog 😛

So I know that a lot of things happened between my two post and I promise to catch up on these events later when I will be back home, but now let’s have a look on the last week and a half.

The life in pink

Katie’s project is about tracing the water flows through the glacier. To do that she use a dye called Rhodamine which can be of different colour but in Katie’s case, it’s pink! Flashy pink!!!

Gloves could be a good idea!
Gloves could be a good idea!

So you can image that’s not always a pleasure to work with this colour but some time that give some great moment and a certain satisfaction to turn any supraglacial stream into the last fashion teenager hair dye colour 😛

Smile, Glacier Blanc turned PINK!
Smile, Glacier Blanc turned PINK!

Up to now, we have some good results even if sometimes, it’s really difficult to interpret as the fluorometer (the device reading the concentration of pink in the stream down the glacier) is sensitive to sun…

To see the dye in action, I will post here a video of an injection of Rhodamine in a stream (internet restriction, video to come).

Your most boring vacation pictures ever

When you read a paper on Structure-from-Motion (SfM) it always looks super cool and spectacular… but when you have to take all the pictures (or videos) by yourself on the scale of a valley with 2 glaciers, you turned into a Japanese tourist who shoots with the rafale mode the same thing again and again from different angle and point of view!!! So I won’t bother you with these dull picture but instead I will go for digging and measuring the debris thickness 😛

Easy-peasy: 5-10 cm of debris!
Easy-peasy: 5-10 cm of debris!

So basically, you choose a random place next where you sit, eat, GPS and dye trace and with an ice axe you move/dig the stones, boulders, pebbles until you reach the ice. Sometimes (up glacier usually) when you’re lucky there is only 5 cm of debris but sometimes you are not lucky and you dig for 20 min to reach 60 cm deep and you realize that the handle of the ice axe can still go down for more than 30 cm before being block by something that is not ice… So you give up!

Now you can repeat that almost every day since a week with some extras: measuring some points by GPS… just for the fun of waiting 20-30 min in the wind and under the rain 😛

My friend #WelshyInTheAlps admiring the landscape from the top of the boulder named "Tardis"
My friend #WelshyInTheAlps admiring the landscape from the top of the boulder named “Tardis”

More fieldwork news soon… I hope!

Fieldwork 1 – My Friend of Misery

For those who know the Metallica song “My Friend of Misery”, here comes the transposition after one week and a half of fieldwork in the Alps.

The car

Fieldwork travels are usually quite exiting when somebody who is working in Antarctica, Greenland or Patagonia: famous airports, lost places, beautiful desolated landscapes… but if you are traveling from Aberystwyth, Wales to Vallouise, France, it ends up more like: rain all the way to Folkstones, 90 min delay with Eurotunnel The Shuttle (for half the price you are in France since 30 min), oil warning lit on in France as well as the windshield fluid. Of course, to conclude this 2 days trip, you need a NavSat system indicating a closed road and a detour through Italy and Frejus tunnel and its 43 euros fees.

So far so good, no? So let’s start with the really fun part: a couple of day of fieldwork going well followed by the loss of the car keys…

After a miraculous recovery by a British family after 5 days and the reception of the spare key from the university, I can tell the really story… you know, why I went through all this misery. Let me introduce you my friends (of misery, from the right to the left): Katie, Helena, Steffan and me.

Group Photo
My Friend of Misery


Let’s talk science

If you exclude all these “minor” troubles, here is some of the science we succeed to do until now.

Concerning the streams exiting the Glacier Noir and Glacier Blanc (Ecrins National Park, France), we have currently two Discharge/Conductivity/Turbidity measurement stations (Steffan’s project) running on each of the stream. In addition, there is a fluorometer (Katie’s project), measuring some dye tracing experiment and as far as we can tell Glacier Noir has a well develop drainage system with a transit time of 30 min from the junction with its tributary.

Steffan downloading the data from the Glacier Noir Station
Steffan downloading the data from the Glacier Noir Station

Concerning the melting rate of Glacier Noir, we have 6 ablations stakes (Helena’s project) on the surface with 1-3 cm per day and a temperature station (thermistor in the air, on the top of the debris, in the middle and at the bottom) showing a nice delay in the “heat wave” transmission and an almost freezing ice surface.

#WelshyInTheAlps and Katie helping to install the temperature station
#WelshyInTheAlps and Katie helping to install the temperature station

For my part, I have a lot of terrain analysis to understand the dynamic and behavior of Glacier Noir, as well as debris thickness (and structure analysis) and GNSS measurements.

Structure and tickness of the debris layer
Structure and tickness of the debris layer
Me preparing the GNSS base station for the day
Me preparing the GNSS base station for the day


To end this post, I wish tell you how a field day can look like when you love your job:

  • Wake up at 4:00am
  • Start to hike up at 5:20 in the same time the rain starts
  • Setup a Discharge/Conductivity/Turbidity measurement station on the exiting stream of Glacier Blanc still in the rain since 2 hours
  • Watch a couple of seracs falling from the snout of the glacier not far away
  • Hope you put enough cable ties, tape, rope for your station to stand the non-stopping rain
  • Reach the car again by 10:30am after 5 hours in the rain and a temperature under 10°C.
  • Try to make all your equipment dry to do it again tomorrow…

And you know what? After a day like that, I still love my job… more than ever 😀