Monthly Archives: September 2014

Camp TUTO Sixty Year Anniversary

Posted by William Colgan on September 30, 2014
Applied Glaciology, Cold War Science, Glaciology History / 6 Comments

Sixty years ago this month, in September 1954, the US Army Corps of Engineers completed its first summer of construction at Camp TUTO, Greenland. Camp TUTO was tucked against the Greenland ice sheet east of Thule Air Base. The gently sloping ice sheet adjacent to the camp, earmarked for vehicle access to the ice sheet interior, was named Thule Take-Off (or TUTO). Over the summer of 1954, some of the one hundred soldiers stationed at Camp TUTO built a gravel road up the first 1500 meters (4700 feet) of TUTO Ramp. Although that got them above the sometimes bare ice and slush of the lower elevation ice sheet melt zone, it still proved difficult to drive over the soft snow of the higher elevation ice sheet accumulation zone.

In official reports, the US Army Corps of Engineers tested “every off-road military vehicle (probably not excepting Hannibal’s elephants)” in the search for a suitable over-snow vehicle. The M29C Weasel, originally designed as an amphibious vehicle late in the Second World War, had proved disappointing in swampy terrain, but exceptionally nimble on the ice sheet. Although the Weasel was out of production even before construction started at Camp TUTO, it became a beloved backbone of US Army logistics on the Greenland ice sheet for almost two decades.

Constructing TUTO Ramp and adopting the Weasel opened up the interior of the Greenland ice sheet for a wide array of military engineering activities, including the construction of ice sheet runways and under-snow stations, as well as civilian science activities, including recovering the first “deep” ice core and wide-ranging snow and accumulation surveys. An auspicious anniversary of a ground-breaking project in applied glaciology!

(skimmed from my upcoming Cold War science project.)


The view up TUTO Ramp, from the ice margin at Camp TUTO, on to the Greenland ice sheet in 1954. (from Nate Galbreath at


Modified M29C Weasels in convoy (left) on the Greenland ice sheet in 1954. (from Nate Galbreath at

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New Report: Greenland Gold Rush

Posted by William Colgan on September 26, 2014
Climate Change, New Research / 1 Comment

The Brookings Institute has just released “The Greenland Gold Rush: Promise and Pitfalls of Greenland’s Energy and Mineral Resources”. The report states that Greenland offshore exploration is now easier than in the past, due to a decrease in sea ice concentration and extent resulting from climate change. The acceleration of Greenland’s tidewater glaciers, however, will result in more icebergs that may “complicate” offshore activities. Onshore, the report finds that climate change has already “relaxed” some of the historical constraints of operating in Greenland, via a lengthening of the summer exploration season and the deglaciation of more land. As expected for a country that is approximately 80 % ice-covered, many onshore resource activities will likely occur in pro-glacial settings.

Report summary: “As the Arctic ice continues to melt due to global warming, Greenland’s mineral and energy resources – including iron ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, gold, rare earth elements, uranium and oil – are becoming more accessible. The political establishment in Greenland has made natural resource extraction a central part of its plans to become economically self-sufficient, and ultimately politically independent, from the Kingdom of Denmark. This will be no easy task, and it is made more difficult by Greenland’s rapidly aging population.”

The Brookings Institute report:


Currently permitted resource exploration and exploitation activities in Greenland, both offshore (yellow) and onshore (blue). (from

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Ice Excavation in an Open Ice Pit

Posted by William Colgan on September 24, 2014
Applied Glaciology, New Research / No Comments

I have a paper in this month’s issue of the Journal of Cold Regions Engineering that examines the ice excavation required to establish and maintain an open ice pit. Excavating an open ice pit is a very non-linear applied glaciology problem, as the excavation of ice from an open ice pit enhances subsequent ice flow into the open ice pit. This is because ice velocity is very sensitive to changes in ice geometry, with third and fourth order dependencies on ice slope and thickness respectively! The paper examines scenarios based on excavating an open ice pit on the Greenland ice sheet margin that extends 1000 m into the ice sheet, with a 200 m high ice wall. That is the approximate dimension of the Isua Prospect, Greenland, which is projected to excavate about 36,000,000 tonnes of glacier ice per year.

Working with such unnatural combinations of ice slope and ice thickness compels you to reconsider fundamental principles of glacier mechanics, such as the appropriate relation between stress and strain at tremendous basal shear stresses, which are inconceivable in virtually all natural glacier settings. Despite an increasingly pressing need for a comprehensive understanding of how glaciers respond to highly transient forcings, however, most private sector glacier management projects cannot contribute meaningful observational data to advance such fundamental science due to proprietary considerations. Perhaps that can change in the future!

W. Colgan. 2014. Considering the ice excavation required to establish and maintain an open ice pit. Journal of Cold Regions Engineering. 28: 04014003. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CR.1943-5495.0000067. Available here.

Supplementary online material (including animations):


Cross sectional ice velocities flowing into an open ice pit at excavation years 2.5 (left) and 10.0 (right) sampled from 30-year animations. Dashed black line denotes original ice surface, dash red line denotes ice pit wall. (from Colgan, 2014)

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Konwakiton Glacier triggers Mt. Shasta mudslide

Posted by William Colgan on September 23, 2014
Applied Glaciology / No Comments

This week Konwakiton Glacier was identified as the source of a mudslide that flowed down the side of Mt. Shasta, USA, for several hours. The US Incident Information System (InciWeb) states that “mudslides are more prevalent [at Mt. Shasta] during drought years due to increased solar exposure of the glaciers”. Recent and prolonged drought conditions in California this past summer have apparently left Mt. Shasta’s glaciers particularly exposed to solar radiation, resulting in more meltwater production than usual. InciWeb suggests that englacially or subglacially stored meltwater was released from Konwakiton Glacier by an unspecified disturbance event. While rain on ice events have triggered past mudslides, Mt. Shasta is a stratovolcano in a seismically active region. In any case, abrupt releases of glacially stored water are a very unique cryospheric hazard!

InciWeb report:


Konwakiton Glacier on Mt. Shasta after the mudslide. (from InciWeb)


The Mt. Shasta mudslide crossed Pilgrim Creek Road and Forest Service Road 31. (from InciWeb)

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New Book: Global Land Ice Measurements from Space

Posted by William Colgan on September 19, 2014
New Research / No Comments

After almost a decade in preparation, and some time in production, the much-awaited Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) book is now available for e-book and hardcopy purchase via Springer (ISBN: 978-3-540-79817-0). With 150+ contributing authors, and 900 pages, it is an epic tome! Inside there is an exhaustive introduction to observing glaciers by satellite and detailed descriptions of every glaciated region in the world. There is a similarly impressive price tag (167 EUR | 219 USD for e-book), so this might be one to request for your local library to purchase.

Springer Purchase:


The Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) book now available. (from Jeffery Kargel)



Ice Sheet Darkening and Forest Fires

Posted by William Colgan on September 18, 2014
New Research / No Comments

Slate is featuring the Dark Snow Project. Photos taken this past summer by Jason Box document just how impressively dark the ice sheet surface has become in South Greenland. There a few competing theories on what might be darkening the surface, such as dust, soot and microbes. An emerging idea is the particles released from forest fires. The Slate piece describes how 2014 was not only the darkest ice sheet summer on record, it was also the most intense forest fire summer on record. The darker the ice sheet becomes, the more solar radiation it absorbs, and the faster in melts. A link between forest fires and ice sheet melt would be a rather unexpected climate feedback!

Full Slate article:

Dark Snow Project:


The impressively dark ice sheet surface in South Greenland. (from Slate: Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You)

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Proglacial Mines: Ice Flow and Infrastructure

Posted by William Colgan on September 15, 2014
Applied Glaciology, Glaciology History / No Comments

Last week Radio Free Europe released some photos of the Kumtor Gold Mine in Kyrgyzstan, where Centerra Gold Inc has been excavating approximately 10 MT of ice per year from the Lysii and Davidov Glaciers that flow into the open pit. In 2012 reported that production estimates were down-revised due to a combination of “substantial acceleration of ice” and labor disruptions. These recent photos show infrastructure damage resulting from what appears to be glacier advance.

While no doubt curious, such a geotechnical management challenge would not be unique. In 1977, Eyles and Rogerson described how several positive mass balance years on the Berendon Glacier in Canada could cause sufficient terminus advance to threaten the adjacent Granduc Operating Company ore processing plant. In response, the Granduc Operating Company began discharging 30°C wastewater, year-round for five years, directly on to the glacier terminus to prevent advance. Glaciers are indeed dynamic landscape features for planning purposes!

Radio Free Europe photo series:

Eyles, N. and R. Rogerson. 1977. Artificially induced thermokarst in active glacier ice: An example from northwest British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Glaciology. 18: 437–444.


Infrastructure damage resulting from what appears to be glacier advance at the Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan (from Radio Free Europe: Kumtor Gold Mine Appears To Be In Bad Shape)


Intentional thermokarst of the Berendon Glacier by the Granduc Operating Company. Red line denotes Summit Lake stream, which has been diverted upglacier at A. Hot waste water is added at B, and flow is subglacial until C. The stream exits the glacier terminus at D. (from Eyles and Rogerson, 1977)

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Brucejack Mine: Knipple Glacier Road

Posted by William Colgan on September 12, 2014
Applied Glaciology / No Comments

Full project environmental impact statement:


Brucejack Gold Mine access road over the Knipple Glacier (from the Brucejack Gold Mine Project Application for an Environmental Assessment Certificate Appendix 10-C).


Overview map of the Brucejack Gold Mine access road over the Knipple Glacier (from the Brucejack Gold Mine Project Application for an Environmental Assessment Certificate Appendix 10-C).

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