California Institute of Technology
Seismological Laboratory Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences



February 2014

Monitoring Iceland's Glaciers

IcelandMark Simons, professor of geophysics, and graduate student, Brent Minchew, using an airborne instrument flown on a NASA research aircraft were able to create detailed maps of how glaciers move in the dead of winter. Each flight follows precisely the same complicated path as flown in 2012. The crisscrossing flight legs allow the JPL-developed instrument, called the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR), to map the full extent of both ice caps from multiple angles to capture flows in every direction.

In June of 2012, Simons and Minchew used the same instrument to map the summer flows of two Icelandic ice caps. During the expedition, the surface ice on the glaciers was melting under the summer sun. Meltwater that trickles through the body of a glacier down to bedrock below can influence the speed in which the glacier flows. By mapping the same ice caps in winter, when the surface remains frozen all day, and then comparing the winter and summer velocities, the researchers will be able to isolate the effects of meltwater.

The two ice caps, called Hofsjökull and Langjökull, are ideal natural laboratories for this experiment, according to Simons. They're relatively uncomplicated and small enough that the scientists can readily use the data from these experiments in computer models of glacier flow without requiring a supercomputer.

The Icelanders have a long history of studying these ice caps. In particular, they have nearly complete maps of the ice-bedrock interface. These expeditions can complement this information with continuous maps of the daily movement or strain of the glacier surface as well as maps of the topography of the glacier surface. These data are then combined to constrain models of glacier dynamics.

This will help scientists better understand some of the most basic processes involved in melting glaciers, which are major contributors to rising sea levels.

Learn more about Mark Simon's research.

Caltech featured Iceland article.

For more information on UAVSAR, please click here.


December 2013

Seismo Lab Students Present at the AGU Fall meeting 2013

Brent MinchewDecember 9-13, Seismo Lab students will present their research at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual fall meeting. They will report their findings on a range of topics, reflecting the diversity of studies undertaken in the Seismo Lab and the collaborative approach to addressing research questions.

Brent Minchew will present new results that cast light on the seasonal evolution of hydrological systems beneath glaciers. Subglacial hydrological systems are an important control on ice mass loss in areas such as Greenland, Iceland, and mountain glaciers throughout the world.

The AGU annual fall meeting, held in San Francisco, is the largest gathering of Earth scientists in the World and the premier conference for geophysics. Each year Seismo Lab students, post-docs, and faculty showcase their research through invited talks, oral presentations, and poster sessions.

Learn more about Brent Minchew's research.

Learn about other research in the Seismo Lab.

October 2013

Welcome New Graduate Students

Located primarily in the Seismological Laboratory, the Geophysics Option in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences provides unique opportunities for graduate students to excel in academics and engage in cutting-edge research.  The Seismo Lab welcomes four new graduate students, from left to right in the photo, Kangchen Bai, Albert Chan, Xiaolin Mao and Trisha Roberson.

Xander Zheng Kangchen Bai (B.S. Geochemistry, Nanjing University) is interested in studying computational seismology to understand dynamic rupture processes, seismic wave propagation in the earth, and related natural hazards. When asked why he chose Caltech, Kangchen responded, "Caltech possesses pioneering faculty in seismology and a relatively free atmosphere for you to find your coworkers. That's why I chose Caltech."

Albert Chan (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has had previous careers in teaching and patent law, and performed research at Binghamton University in experimental petrology regarding partitioning of chlorine in synthetic amphibole. Al has a broad range of interests in geology and geophysics, and would like to focus his research on the deep Earth, specifically the dynamics and structure of the lower mantle and core.  "I chose Caltech and the Seismological Laboratory because of their historical contributions to our understanding of the Earth and their commitment to science and research."

Xiaolin Mao (B.S. Geology & M.S. Geophysics, Nanjing University) is entering the program with a background in Geology and Geophysics, with previous research experience in understanding the rheology, structure, and evolution of the lithosphere and evolution of the mantle. With a strong interest in quantitative interpretations of geological events at different timescales, Xiaolin seeks to connect mantle convection with plate tectonics and earthquake nucleation during his graduate studies.

Trisha Roberson (B.S. Honours Physics & Philosophy, University of British Columbia) has done research working on the Canadian Strong Motion Seismic Array at Earthquakes Canada, with UBC's Seismic Laboratory of Imaging and Modeling, and at ConocoPhillips working on data analysis transforms. In addition to Geophysics, Trisha has also done short research projects in theoretical astrophysics and condensed matter, as well as experimental cosmology. Trisha is interested in conducting research in seismology during her graduate studies.

Click here for more information on the educational opportunities in Geophysics.

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