Challenges addressed

As glaciers melt due to climate change, they release sediment along with ice and water. This sediment discharge affects downstream ecosystems and landscapes, with implications for communities and operations such as hydropower. However, comprehending these effects is complex due to the intricate interplay between glacier dynamics, hydrology, erosion, and sediment transport. Current methodologies for sampling this sediment are constrained, largely being conducted at the glacier's snout, which provides an incomplete understanding of the sediment's concentration and composition within subglacial channels.

Objectives

The project team wishes to develop a semi-autonomous robot that can be deployed into subglacial streams to collect sediment samples. This robot will significantly enhance our understanding of subglacial hydrology and sediment dynamics in glacierised catchments, which is critical in the context of climate change. The information gathered from the robot's sediment analysis will improve models predicting the interactions between glacier dynamics, hydrology, erosion, and sediment transport. Ultimately, the project aims to provide essential data that can guide decision making and the implementation of climate change mitigation strategies, inform water resource management in mountainous regions, and enhance preparation for changes in surrounding communities and ecosystems as glaciers retreat.

What are the expected outputs of this project?

  • To develop a robot that can enter subglacial streams through a moulin to extract sediment samples.
  • To collect sediment samples from subglacial streams in glacial moulins.
  • To analyse of sediment samples, and the accompanying insights into subglacial hydrology and glacial dynamics.

Milestones

  • June and July 2023

    Setup project by creating the specification of the robot and the samples

  • July to November 2023

    Implementation of the robotic monitoring platform

  • July to October 2023

    Testing and data collection

  • October 2023 to February 2024

    Analysis of the collected data

  • February to May 2024

    Finalising the project, including outreach and publications

Funding

This project is financed by the Fondation Valéry and supported by CLIMACT.

Principal investigators

Prof.
Prof. Josie Hughes

EPFL STI

Dr.
Dr. Ian Delaney

UNIL FGSE

Partners

Sustainable Development Goals

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