Ice Core (Photo: Hans Oerter, Alfred-Wegener-Institut)

Ongoing acceleration of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, increasing contribution of ice sheets and glaciers to sea level change and disintegration of ice shelves show the time scale on which these elements of the cryosphere change. And we need to understand their causes. Ice sheets are dynamic systems that respond to climatic forcing. They are unique climate archives opening us the opportunity to investigate past conditions and composition of the atmosphere and to assess the current changes in the perspective of long time scales. 

  • What are the causes for ice stream acceleration?
  • What are the factors for ice stream genesis?
  • Which role does subglacial water play?
  • What drives grounding line migration?
  • Which ice deformation mechanisms contribute to ice flow?
  • How do atmospheric signals transfer into climate signals in ice cores?
  • Which mechanisms govern firnification?
  • Can we reconstruct seasonal signals from ice cores?
  • What causes abrupt climate changes?
  • What is the natural climate variability represented by proxies in ice cores?

These are the science questions we aim to answer with our research. This requires an observational, theoretical and modelling approach on all levels, from process understanding to system studies. To this end we conduct ice core research, field glaciology, remote sensing and modeling studies with a regional focus on Greenland and Antarctica.

During expeditions we drill ice and firn cores, perform in situ measurements on  snow and firn, perform surveys with geophysical techniques and run monitoring stations. The expeditions are often carried out in collaboration with national and international partners and consist of multi-disciplinary teams.

The infrastructure we are using are AWI’s airborne platforms Polar 5/6 and Polarstern, the permanent and summer stations Neumayer III and Kohnen, ice and clean room laboratories, ice core storage facility and computing clusters.

As complex as natural systems are, as broad are the themes and as diverse are the methods we use in the Section Glaciology to improve our knowledge of past, present and future role of ice sheets, ice streams and ice shelves within the Earth system.