Photo: Martin Jakobsson
The expedition will study the floating parts of glaciers in northwestern Greenland.
Photo: Martin Jakobsson

In August, a research expedition to the remote Ryder Glacier in northwestern Greenland will be carried out using the Swedish icebreaker Oden. Ryder 2019 is an interdisciplinary expedition with researchers from Sweden, the USA and Canada. The researchers’ expertise spans fields such as atmospheric chemistry, physics, biology, climatology, ecology, genetic research, glaciology, oceanography, marine geology, geophysics, geochemistry, and archaeology. The overall primary aim is to understand the causes of dynamic changes in the floating parts of glaciers that drain the northwestern Greenland ice into the sea.

“How do these 'ice tongues', together with the sea ice, the influx of warmer water, and the geology of the underwater landscape, impact the stability of the Ryder Glacier? We need to understand this in order to assess the potential contribution of northwestern Greenland’s ice sheet to future sea-level rise,” says Martin Jakobsson, professor at the Department of Geological Sciences at Stockholm University and one of the expedition’s two chief scientists.

Uncertainty about glaciers’ contribution to rising sea level

The greatest element of uncertainty in forecasts of how much the global sea level may rise in a warmer climate is in determining precisely how glaciers and continental ice sheets in contact with the sea will behave. Potential contributions from the Greenland ice sheet and the ice sheets in West Antarctica represent the greatest uncertainties. There are also major uncertainties about how quickly the sea ice in the Arctic may deplete and the destabilisation of frozen gas hydrates bound in the Arctic marine sediments, which may lead to emissions of the greenhouse gas methane.

Continuation of the 2015 expedition

The Ryder 2019 project is a continuation of the expedition to the Petermann Glacier in 2015, where Martin Jakobsson also assumed the role of chief scientist. During the 2015 expedition, the Petermann Fjord and adjacent area of Hall Basin were investigated. The setup for the Ryder 2019 expedition is nearly identical.

Archaeologists are studying the colonisation of Greenland

Photo: Love Dalén
Skull from muskox found at earlier expedition to Siberia. Photo: Love Dalén

In total, more than 20 researchers and technicians at Stockholm University are participating in the expedition. Their tasks will include mapping the seabed using sonar, drilling for samples in the seabed and examining glaciers. Unlike 2015, archaeologists and geneticists are now also part of the expedition team. Professor Anders Götherström at Stockholm University, together with Professor Love Dalén at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, will lead a research team that will work on land. They are both part of the new Centre for Palaeogenetics, a joint initiative by Stockholm University and the Swedish Royal Museum of Natural History.

The overall purpose of their research project is to establish a chronology for when different species (including humans) colonised northern Greenland, which was probably the first part of Greenland they came to.
“We are there to collect drill cores from bottom sediments in lakes. We will search for DNA using a method that worked effectively in identifying when mammoths were present on islands. I will also investigate the areas around the lakes where we drill with the aim of locating artefacts and other human remains,” says Anders Götherström.

In early July, Oden left Sweden to first carry out an American expedition in the Northwest Passage. On 3 August, Oden departs from Thule in Greenland for the Ryder Expedition, which runs until 10 September.