Sub-glacial workshop

Thursday 19th April. Posted by Mathieu Tachon and Miriam Jackson

We all woke up bright and early on Monday because it was the day of the workshop. Five glaciologists were due to arrive to visit this unique laboratory. Before the guests arrived, PiM and Coline melted a bit more in the ice cave. Alex and I waited for the helicopter that would bring the visitors because we needed to get some heavy equipment that we had brought with us from Oslo, but was too heavy to carry when we walked up to the tunnel on Friday. The equipment included heavy-duty batteries and GPS receivers, as well as more food. We took the helicopter at about 9am on a beautiful sunny weather. It was really pleasant to see the sun, even after spending only two days in the lab. We landed near the place where the car was parked and met the group of the scientists that were coming to the workshop . They took the helicopter for the first trip while we were packing all the stuff we needed to bring up to the tunnel. We were all back in the tunnel at 10 and  left the equipment at the living quarters. We then went along the tunnel and caught up with the workshop participants who were getting a tour of the tunnel system, including the flushing tunnel (used to empty sediments from the sediment chamber) , then the sediment chamber itself and the laboratory facilities.

Afterwards, we divided into two groups so that there would not be too many people when we go inside the ice cave. Our group visits the Spiral tunnel and its ice plug at the end and the entrance of the Fonndalstunnel (a tunnel that goes all the way under Engabreen, under the mountain 'Midnattsoltind' and even under the next valley) first. Eventually it's our turn to go into the ice cave. Lamps are set up on the bedrock, making the cave look beautiful and surreal. The outlines of the ice crystals are clearly visible, as well as features such as the water pockets and we can also see the sediments in the basal ice in detail. The visiting scientists are suitably impressed. Each of them have seen many, many glaciers before, but this place is really special.

Following the tour we had a quick lunch at the lab in the room that we generally use to eat when we do not have time to go back to the living quarters. Miriam explained the plans for the workshop for the rest of the day and the following day. Then there were the first of the presentations and several people commented on how surreal it was to be having these talks on subglacial topics while actually being under a glacier.  We left the tunnel soon after because the rest of the workshop was due to take place outside the tunnel and would use the 'brestue' by the proglacial lake. The trip down from the tunnel was on foot, but it was beautiful conditions. Coline proved that she was an expert in sliding downhill on her bottom whereas Alex and I had to use use a plastic bag as a sledge to get the necessary speed. We reached the lake in less than an hour, despite taking a few breaks to take pictures of the spectacular view of the glacier and the mountains in the afternoon sun. The workshop dinner was waiting for us in the brestue, complete with candles and wine. To top it all we had a marvelous view of the lake and the glacier in the background with the pink evening light on the surrounding mountains through a bay window of the Brestue cabin.

After that, we all went to bed to meet again the following day for the rest of the talks. Despite not actually being under a glacier, the talks were just as engrossing. The plans for the afternoon were first to have an excursion to the tongue of the glacier and then, the visitors group had to leave to take a boat at 4:30 while the rest of the group had to walk back up to the tunnel. The snout of the glacier was fantastic and it was possible to go in a sort of natural cave under the lowermost ice blocks. Once again, the subglacial workshop was subglacial! After a long while contemplating the pure, blue ice, we separated, the scientists having to take their boat and then to drive to Bodø, and for the rest of us a 2 hour hike back up to the tunnel. Ken Mankoff, a scientist from the United States and working also on using the  Kinect for mapping ice caves, came up with us for another look at the ice cave and to help us in our work.


- scientists arriving at the workshop by helicopter
– in the ice cave
– workshop participants at the entrance to the tunnel
– sliding and walking down from the tunnel
– workshop participants with Engabreen as backdrop
– workshop dinner with a beautiful ivew of Engabreen
– Thomas Zwinger giving a workshop lecture
– interested listeners to a workshop lecture
– Workshop excursion with Engabreen in the background
– the workshop becomes subglacial again (Tomas Johanesson, Thomas Zwinger, Alexandra Messerli)
– the workshop becomes subglacial again (Tomas Johanesson, Coline Mollaret, Doug Benn, Alexandra Messerli)
– the workshop becomes subglacial again (Coline Mollaret, Tomas Johanesson,  Alexandra Messerli)
– In front of the glacier before the walk back up (Ken Mankoff, Coline Mollaret, Pierre-Marie Lefeuvre, Mathieu Tachon)
– In front of the glacier before the walk back up (Ken Mankoff, Coline Mollaret)