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Neal Iverson, Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, (515) 294-8048
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa – While Iowans await the thawing temperatures of March, Neal Iverson, an Iowa State University assistant professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, will be leaving for a research project in Norway. He will be spending three weeks under a glacier.

Iverson is researching how glaciers flow, slide over rock, and shape the rock and sediment beneath them. To do this, he will be heading to Norway's Svartisen Glaciological Observatory -- a tunnel excavated in rock beneath the Svartisen Ice Cap. The tunnel was constructed in 1993 by the Norwegian state power company, which collects the water from the glacier for hydropower.

Iverson's research, funded by the National Science Foundation, is geared toward better understanding natural physical processes on Earth's surface, particularly in glacial environments.

"We want to learn exactly how glaciers move over the rock bed," Iverson said. "Understanding how glaciers move, and what causes them to sometimes greatly increase their speed, will ultimately lead to a better understanding of how they impact Earth's climate. Glaciers not only respond to climate change but also sometimes trigger it."

For three weeks (March 10 - April 2) Iverson will be living and working beneath 700-foot thick ice pack. Inside the temperature will be a constant 35 F, and humidity 100 per cent. The only opportunity to see the Sun will be a 30-minute walk down the tunnel, once each day.

"It's not a pleasant place to work ," Iverson says. "But it's a great natural lab to study glaciers and glacier motion."

Iverson and his colleagues, former students Denis Cohen of Yale University and Tom Hooyer of the Wisconsin Geological Survey, will install instruments between the ice and rock that will continuously record the stress on the rock and the speed and temperature of the ice as it slips across the rock.

In previous studies -- this will be Iverson's third trip to Svartisen -- their research has shown that ice at the bottom of glaciers is softer and flows easier than ice higher in glaciers. With this round of experiments, Iverson hopes to learn what controls the friction at the glacier-rock interface and how ice moves at the bottom of the glacier if there is a layer of wet sediment between the ice and rock.

The results, Iverson said, will help scientists develop mathematical models for predicting the movement of glaciers.

"During the ice ages, glaciers profoundly affected much of Earth's climate and landscape. A full understanding of how modern glaciers move is required to determine how glaciers have triggered climate change and shaped landscapes, including those of Iowa," Iverson said.


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