2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 208-8
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


Field engineers and technicians at UNAVCO provide geodetic support for the NSF’s Division of Polar Program funded research projects in the Arctic and Antarctic. Research in polar environments requires the equipment to be robust, well designed and tested. As interns of Geo-Launchpad, a UNAVCO internship program funded by the NSF that is aimed towards community college, first-year and second-year students, we assisted field engineers with seasonal equipment preparation and gained experience and familiarity with GPS equipment and survey methods. Using the skills we acquired we designed a field survey of a nearby alpine glacier to measure the summer 2015 St. Mary’s Glacier terminus, which can be used by future interns to monitor glacier health.

To measure the location of the 2015 St. Mary’s glacier terminus and lake shoreline, we used backpack mounted differential GPS systems to record our location every second as we walked the snow/rock interface. This method does not require communication between the base and rover, but rather collect continuous topographic points, which were later post-processed to correct for error. Importing collected GPS data points on a geo-referenced 2014 satellite imagery of the site, we were able to detect an average offset of 11 meters; the glacier lost volume during the time period of one year and one week starting the 20th of July of 2014 and ending the 14th of July of 2015.

In order to assess future glacial change at St. Mary’s site, surveys must be performed during the same time period in successive years. The project we have designed serves as a baseline for upcoming field surveys of St. Mary’s glacier. Our post-processed data will be provided to future interns that will carry out this project; this allows data comparison and analysis. By monitoring the melting and accumulation rates of snow fields using differential GPS, surveys such as this one using will allow scientists and researchers to relate these changing observations with other atmospheric, oceanic, and polar changes around the world and most importantly, in the Arctic and the Antarctic.